El Salvador on steadier course -- after bowing to terrorist demands

El Salvador's political and economic disarray eased slightly this week as the newly reconstituted junta released seven leftist political prisoners in exchange for release of two ambassadors whom terrorists had held hostage for four days.

Yet by agreeing to the terrorists' conditions, the three-month-old military-civilian government may have lost some leverage.

Moreover, South African Ambassador Archibald Gardner Dunn is still in terrorist hands -- 45 days after being seized by the Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion (FPL). The South African Ambassador was captured in a separate incident.

In addition, members of another leftist organization, the Bloque Popular Revolucionario (BPR), occupied the Roman Catholic Cathedral in downtown San Salvador Jan. 14, Chanting antigovernment slogans.

The Liga Popular de 28 de Febrero (LP-28) -- the group that forced the release of leftists in exchange for release of the Panamanian and Costa Rican ambassadors -- and the FPL and the BPR have refused other conciliatory overtures from the military-civilian government, claiming the junta represents little change from the past.

But other guerrilla groups and opposition forces, including the main political parties, are taking a wait-and-see attitude. For example, the Christian Democratic Party, El Salvador's largest party, has agreed to play a role in the joint military-civilian government.

Jose Antonio morales Ehrlich, a former major of San Salvador and secretary, general of the Christian Democrats, agreed to become a member of the junta. And the party is urging Salvadoreans to give the junta an opportunity to begin the reforms many Salvadoreans believe are absolutely essential to end the country's longstanding malaise.

The junta, as reconstituted, includes the two military men who carried out the Oct. 15 coup d'etat that paved the way for the establishment of joint military-civilian rule. However, in its new form, the junta will not have any members who are businessmen or who represent the private sector.

"Without the private sector represented, we have more unity, more clarity," says Col. Jaime Abdul Gutierrez, one of the two military men on the junta. "Now things will change in this country."

For most observers, there is little doubt that Colonel Gutierrez is little doubt that Colonel Gutierrez is sincere. But the question remains whether he and his fellow junta members can bring about the social, political, and economic change that growing numbers of Salvadoreans argue is necessary.

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