From his patio, former Salvador coup leader sadly watches rightists curb reforms

Gen. Jaime Abdul Gutierrez sits on his patio. In his garden two Guachamaya birds, awash in colors, preen themselves on a perch. Gutierrez, one of the leaders of El Salvador's 1979 military coup and former commander in chief of the Armed Forces, now spends most of his time at home. He has little to do but watch the current government dismantle the social reforms he helped initiate.

On the morning of Oct. 15, 1979, Gutierrez, then a colonel, called then-President Carlos Humberto Romero Mena and informed him he had been deposed in a coup.

''We saw the coup,'' Gutierrez says, ''as a last chance to bring about some kind of social reform. The elections of 1972 and 1976, like all elections here, were a fraud. The majority of the opposition leaders were in exile and the left had penetrated every sector of the society.''

Gutierrez and a small corps of young Army officers set up a junta that included a cross section of the political spectrum, including the Communist Party.

''Our reforms were ones which would have given the people an alternative to Marxism or the oligarchy.''

The new government ordered the seizure of the 276 largest private farms in the country. These farms were turned into peasant cooperatives. The sugar- and coffee-exporting trades were nationalized.

The junta, charging that credit was seldom extended to anyone but the upper class, took controlling interest of 51 percent of all banks. Some security forces were abolished, political prisoners were freed, and an amnesty was declared. Freedom of organization was granted.

The broadly based junta collapsed after 2 1/2 months of bitter infighting and confrontations with the oligarchy and hard-liners in the military.

When the junta disintegrated, the Christian Democratic Party joined the military in forming a coalition government. This government lasted until the March 1982 elections, when the ultra-right regained power and elected Roberto D'Aubuisson to be president of the Constituent Assembly.

''The problem with the 1982 elections,'' Gutierrez says, ''is that were was no political consciousness among the populace about what elections meant. The oligarchy had candidates in all the principal parties who spoke about reforms but had no intention of actually instituting them.''

Gutierrez claims there is no sense of accountability among elected officials toward the people they represent. ''Nor,'' he says, ''is accountability expected.

''What you have now is a group of men who only represent their own economic interests sitting in the Constituent Assembly, drafting a new constitution for this country which will not be worth the paper it is written on.''

Once the deputies were elected to the assembly and the oligarchic interest regained control of government, Gutierrez was left to tend his Guachamaya birds.

''I supposedly can be reactivated into service at any time,'' Gutierrez says, ''but . . . I doubt I'm going get any calls.''

Most of those who served with Gutierrez in the junta and who orchestrated the 1979 coup have left the country. Many - including moderates like Col. Adolfo Majano Ramos and Guillermo Ungo Revelo - decided the political process was bankrupt and joined the rebels.

Gutierrez, despite his disgust over the course of events, did not take that course.

''You cannot motivate a population with just anticommunist rhetoric,'' he says. ''What those in power now fail to see is that the only real political objective they have given the people is the reinstatement of the oligarchy, which even most of the military does not want.''

Gutierrez charges there is little popular support for the current government.

''The troops only fight to get money for their families, or because they are forced to. . . . We have a very unmotivated army.

''The crisis is total. We are economically and militarily alive only because of the US, which despite its best intentions does not understand the problem. This is not an East-West confrontation. It is a struggle by a corrupt and wealthy elite to maintain power. Regretfully this elite has maneuvered back into form and destroyed the reforms that once attempted to deal with the injustices.''

He says military dissatisfaction could reverse the trend but time is short.

''Each day we wait for real social change, for a truly representative democracy, is a day given to the left. Each day we wait only means more war, more destruction, and more pain for the people.''

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