If Jose Napoleon Duarte becomes president of El Salvador, as now appears likely, it will mark a new, perhaps hopeful phase in the continuing crisis facing the beleaguered Central American country. Mr. Duarte is a respected Salvadoran civilian. By all reasonable accounts he won the 1972 presidential election. Had the military of the era allowed him to assume office, the escalating civil war of the past eight years might not have occurred.
That is hindsight. What matters now is that Mr. Duearte's selection offers El Salvador a new beginning. As head of the centrist Christian Democratic Party , he has been a member since March of the joint civilian-military junta that has tried for 14 months to end El Salvador's strife, which this year alone has killed more than 10,000 persons. The junta obviously has not had much success. Yet it many well have been the only viable alternative to either leftist or rightist extremism.
Whether Mr. Duarte can now provide an even more effective alternative remains to be seen. The United States, which has reluctantly but steadily been drawn into El Salvador's current turmoil, clearly hopes Mr. Duarte will manage to prove more adroit at running the country than was the junta. Moreover, there is some evidence that US pressure may have led to Mr. Duarte's choice. A special US investigatory team looking into the murder of four US women missionaries reported it found no evidence of involvement by El Salvador's military command in the slayings. But it did suggest that a reorganization of the government was essential.
Mr. Duarte's choice answers that call. It can be hoped that he will be able gradually to bring Salvadorans of all persuasions into a government that seeks to resolve the economic and social problems underlying the current strife. His own words suggest his desire to do just that. His goal, he said recently, is a "revolution that is nonviolent," non-Marxist, and not against the United States."