Junta member's departure may strengthen El Salvador

El Salvador's fragile civilian-military junta cracked a bit more this week as one of its five members resigned amid growing rightist-leftist polarization. Ironically, however, Hector Dada Hirezi's resignation March 4 may lead to the strengthening of the junta if Christian Democratic leader Jose Napoleon Duarte takes Mr. Dada Hirezi's place.

There is no certainty that Mr. Duarte will accept a role on the junta, but as a longtime symbol of moderate politics, his presence in the government might just be the cement needed for the junta to stem El Salvador's drift toward civil war.

As each day passes, the threat of war mounts. Even if Mr. Duarte's joins the junta, there can be no certainty war will be averted.

The Christian Democrats, who joined the moderate military on the junta in January, will hold a convention March 9 to name a successor to Mr. Dada Hirezi.

There is no official word on why Mr. Dada Hirezi, a respected engineer, resigned. Privately, however, it is understood that his family was worried about his safety and forced his hand. It is known that he had received a variety of death threats in recent weeks.

Moreover, the assassination Feb. 23 of Mario Zamora Rivas, a Christian Democratic official, by masked gunmen had a profound effect on the Dada Hirezi family. The families were quite close.

In stepping out of government, Mr. Dada Hirezi also leaves the foreign minister's position vacant. He had held that post since Oct. 15, when the nation's moderate military leaders staged the coup that led to creation of the joint civilian-military junta. Mr. Dada Hirezi reportedly has left El Salvador for Mexico.

If Mr. Duarte joins the junta, he will most likely become the leading civilian voice in the government. At the moment that role belongs to Jose Antonio Morales Erlich, a lawyer and Christian Democrat who has long been Mr. Duarte's assistant.

When the Christian Democrats joined the government in January, Mr. Duarte, who had been in exile for seven years, stayed on the sidelines and tried to build support for the party. The Christian Democratic organization had lost a great deal of grass-roots support during his absence. At one time it was El Salvador's largest political grouping.

It is unclear whether Mr. Duarte's effort to strengthen the party was successful. With the polarization of politics in El Salvador, many Christian Democrats moved leftward and joined with a variety of radical organizations that aim to make major changes in the social and economic structure of the country.

Many Salvadoreans think the Christian Democrats -- although they have long called for reform -- are a party whose time has come and gone.

On the other hand, there are Salvadoreans who yearn for a moderate solution to the present turmoil and who regard the Christian Democrats as the best alternative to the nation's political and economic chaos.

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