Duarte visits US, seeking to undercut support for Salvadoran guerrillas

Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte, who arrived in Washington Sunday, wants to undercut the support that leftist Salvadoran guerrillas enjoy in the United States and elsewhere in the hemisphere.

He is particularly unhappy over the recent Mexican-French recognition of the guerrillas as a "representative political force" and hopes to convince members of Congress and opinion groups in the US that the guerrillas are not as powerful as this recognition would suggest, nor are they winning as much on the battlefield as some reports indicate.

Although President Duarte's visit is officially termed a private one, he will confer with President Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. Both are staunch supporters of the Salvadoran leader and it is thought likely here that they would turn a favorable ear to any Duarte request for more economic aid , and even some military aid, from the US.

In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the US has provided El Salvador with $126 million in economic aid and $35 million in military assistance; there are also 35-or-so US military advisers on the scene. Proposed aid for next year totals $ 75 million in economic and $26 million in military assistance.

But winning more US assistance is not the major focus of the Duarte visit this week. Rather, it is one of lobbying the US Congress and other groups for support of his government's cause in the Salvadoran civil war. Mr. Duarte knows that the guerrillas have a significant and vocal core of supporters in the US, including many members of Congress and Salvadoran emigre groups.

He is, however, an articulate spokesman for the Salvadoran government's cause and speaks good English in addition to his native Spanish. Observers here feel he should be able to make headway in convincing North Americans that his government merits their understanding, if not outright support.

President Duarte, nevertheless, will have to counter a persistent feeling here that Salvadoran military forces have acted brutally and without respect for human rights -- and that therefore neither the military nor the Duarte government merits the support he seeks.

In addition, battlefield reports in recent weeks have suggested that, while the guerrillas still are not strong enough to defeat government forces, they have been successful in keeping them off balance.

They frequently dislodge military units from towns and cities, holding them for brief periods, unleash bombing attacks in San Salvador, the capital, and keep military forces elsewhere at bay.

This guerrilla success is one of the reasons for the Mexican-French recognition.

But the Mexican-French action was soundly criticized in some quarters. Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Argentina took the Mexicans and the French to task, suggesting the recognition was unwise interference in Salvadoran internal affairs.

Venezuela was particularly vocal in this regard, sharply scolding the Mexicans and urging support for Mr. Duarte. The ruling Christian Democratic party has long supported Christian Democrat Duarte, who spent much of the 1970s in exile in Venezuela.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.