San Salvador — A small sign near the entrance of the party headquarters of the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) reads: ''Journalist, sell out your own country, not ours. Tell the truth.''
The warning, directed at the foreign press, illustrates the siege mentality and xenophobia of many within the ultra-right ARENA.
Members of this political group profess virulent anticommunism. They lash out at critics of human rights abuses in the country, at the United States Congress and State Department, and at the international press corps, which they believe have joined a worldwide communist conspiracy against them.
''You have groups in the United States, groups manipulated and run by the communists, who attack us,'' ARENA vice-presidential candidate Hugo Barrera says. He says there is a ''fifth column'' of communists that has worked its way into the legislative branch of the US government.
ARENA's presidential candidate, Roberto d'Aubuisson, even calls his Christian Democratic opponent, former President Jose Napoleon Duarte, a communist. He runs a slick campaign and uses humor and invective to his advantage. His advertisements on television flash up pictures of Duarte and rebel leader Guillermo Ungo together. In public speeches, d'Aubuisson often imitates Duarte in a most unflattering manner. But the party seems to focus more on the dangers of a Duarte government than on the benefits of an ARENA administration.
D'Aubuisson, a cashiered Army major, is the only candidate to speak out in favor of stepping up the war.
''There is only one possible solution (to the war),'' he says, ''and that is a military victory.'' The immediate future with d'Aubuisson as president would be an increase in war activity.
ARENA is angry about charges of human rights violations leveled by US and international rights groups against the Salva-dorean military and government.
''Why don't all these human rights people condemn the death squads you have in the US? Because that is what your Mafia is,'' Barrera says. ''And why don't they worry about the human rights of black people? I've been in the southern United States and your black people don't have work, are abused, and will probably rise up against you in rebellion if you don't start to worry about their social problems.''
Barrera says those who attack El Salvador for human rights abuses ''favor the Soviet system of government.'' He admits there is a problem, but claims that death squads are implements of the left.
But his own running mate and other ARENA members have been accused of involvement with death squads. Former US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White, for one, charges that d'Aubuisson is linked to such shadowy activity.
The ARENA candidate has repeatedly denied these charges. But there are reports that d'Aubuisson is being pressured to withdraw from the race by ARENA members who have come to think their candidate is more of a political liability than an asset.
If d'Aubuisson withdraws, many observers here believe the National Conciliation Party candidate, Jose Francisco Guerrero, would probably win the election. Analysts here suggest ARENA would be willing to back the also-conservative National Conciliation Party in a runoff election against Duarte, or to form a rightist coalition government.
ARENA would still remain the dominant force within any rightist coalition because it is better organized and better run than most of the other political groups.
The ARENA party was founded in September 1981 by ultra-rightist sectors within the military, internal security forces, and the large landowning elite. The party's slogan is: ''Today the battle, tomorrow peace, progress, and liberty.''
ARENA was the major challenger to the Christian Democratic Party in the 1982 elections for the deputies of the Constituent Assembly. ARENA and the Christian Democrats together earned seven out of every 10 votes cast.
ARENA has been a stiff opponent of US-sponsored social reforms here, and d'Aubuisson helped to defeat continuation of parts of the agrarian reform measures. But the party has begun to present itself as an ally of agrarian reform.
''The reforms have gone through the Constituent Assembly and survived because we supported them,'' d'Aubuisson recently told some peasant laborers at the El Sunca government cooperative.
At this gathering, d'Aubuisson appeared on the campaign platform with government officials to help hand out land titles to cooperative members.
Before the title to the coffee holdings on the Los Lagartos Cooperative was presented to the peasant laborers, the cooperative president, Santiago Arerra, read a prepared statement to the crowd.
As he slowly read words of praise for ARENA from a paper in front of him, Arerra was physically shaking. He shook so much that he had to stop several times to regain his composure. The Christian Democrats say that ARENA has coerced the cooperative into supporting the party.
Next: Jose Napoleon Duarte and Christian Democrats