Salvador's feisty 'Napo' Duarte readies for tough fight in hostile political arena
Santa Ana, El Salvador
When he was mayor of San Salvador in the late 1960s, Jose Napoleon Duarte was perhaps the most popular figure in this country. In the sprawling urban ghettos around the capital, the three most common pictures were of the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and ''Napo.''Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Duarte introduced street lighting and new central markets and made the mayor's office accessible to average Salvadoreans.
This year the burly populist is a presidential candidate. But the road from mayor to this presidential candidacy has been anything but smooth. Duarte is far less popular today. He is, in fact, the common enemy of all right-wing political groups.
Duarte says this is the price that he and the Christian Democrats, a party he helped to form, must pay for backing social and political change.
Speaking to farm laborers in Santa Ana recently, Duarte promised to break the ''system of terror'' in El Salvador if he is elected president. He says he will close down the clandestine paramilitary and death squad operations and launch investigations into who is responsible for them.
He says his key opponent, National Republican Alliance (ARENA) party candidate Roberto d'Aubuisson, ''indirectly is responsible for many deaths because of his contribution to this climate of terror.''
Duarte is believed to want to open a dialogue with leftist guerrillas, although publicly he speaks of negotiations in only vague terms. Most observers would not expect him to offer the insurgents any concessions that would resolve the social conflict here. When asked about the 20-point negotiation plan put forth by the insurgents recently, Duarte says, ''It is 21-point plan. The final point, which they have not written in, is total power.''
Some question his capacity to carry through the reforms and the political agenda he espouses. His reputation has been badly damaged by his decision to remain a part of two juntas (1980 to 1982) in which some of the worst political violence in Salvadorean history took place.
Duarte's own party split when Mario Zamora, attorney general in the first and second juntas, was shot on Feb. 23, 1980. Days before the killing, Roberto d'Aubuisson went on television to denounce Zamora as a clandestine member of the guerrillas.
Duarte and other Christian Democrats threatened to resign if Zamora's killers were not apprehended. But the party later reneged on its threat. At that point, several major party members, including Ruben Zamora and Hector Dada, resigned from the government.
Duarte's decision to renege on his resignation and his role in a government that unleashed brutal internal repression has haunted him ever since.
Duarte advocates more state control over the private sector, which is dominated by a wealthy elite here. And he calls for the removal of ARENA members from the management of the government farm cooperatives.
ARENA, he charges, has attempted to sabotage the agrarian reform. He also claims ARENA officials have used their government cooperative offices to further their own political and economic ends.
While ARENA perceives itself as the vanguard of anticommunism under attack from the United States government and some Salvadorean sectors, it is in fact the Christian Democratic Party that has endured the severest of assaults of any party still existent in this country, most analysts agree.
The Christian Democratic Party, founded in 1961, was viewed by the US, after the Cuban revolution, as a kind of moderate political alternative to Marxism and military dictatorship in Latin America. It grew in political power and popularity through the '60s.
By the late '60s, the Christian Democrats had eclipsed all other political groups and were challenging the official state party, the National Conciliation Party, for control of the National Assembly.