Central America: Congress's turn

The El Salvador issue now is in Congress's court. That is one principal effect of President Reagan's action late last week in accepting the report of the Kissinger commission, including its requests for more military aid to the beleaguered nation and $8 billion in economic aid over five years for all of Central America.

How much aid Congress will give - if any - depends not only on politics but also on what happens in El Salvador, now generally believed to be at a critical point. Further, many observers believe the positions of the government and its Army are deteriorating rapidly.

Congress may well decide to vote military assistance as a response. Proponents say more arms are essential if the Salvadorean Army is to hold off the rebels, whose strength is growing. Opponents say the Salvadoreans have more than enough arms already and that the Army is demoralized and an ineffective fighting force, problems which no amount of weaponry will solve.

It is doubtful whether the shattered economies of Central America could put $ 8 billion in nonmilitary aid to good use at this time; critics of the Kissinger commission say it is impossible. In any case it almost surely is academic: Congress seems certain not to vote anywhere near that much.

What is more, if Roberto d'Aubuisson wins the March presidential election in El Salvador, Congress may react by voting no economic aid whatsoever. Mr. d'Aubuisson now is the favorite for the presidency; many in Congress and elsewhere in the US government are deeply suspicious of him, as he has been widely linked to right-wing death squad activity.

Robert White, the Carter administration's last ambassador to El Salvador, in effect now charges the Reagan administration with having covered up proof he provided that Mr. d'Aubuisson personally ordered the assassination of the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador. The State Department denies the charge, saying the US has only inconclusive information.

Many in Congress feel it is futile for the US to finance the continued rule of Salvadorean officials who would perpetuate terrorism from the right.

El Salvador's top military officers fear that if Mr. d'Aubuisson's leading rival - Jose Napoleon Duarte - is elected, they will lose their power, as he will initiate talks with rebels aimed at producing peace in El Salvador and some kind of coalition government. Thus, many persons in and out of the US government believe that if Duarte were to be victorious, the military would swiftly remove him by coup or assassination.

With an election coming in the US in November, the issue also is highly political in Washington. Democrats recognize that if the situation in El Salvador should deteriorate dramatically over the next few months, it might force the Reagan administration to choose reluctantly between ''losing'' that nation to the rebels, or sending American troops there. Either way, but especially if troops were sent, the Democrats would have a strong campaign issue.

The thought of sending troops to El Salvador would seem exceptionally unwise. Thus it was good to hear Secretary of State George Shultz strongly deny late last week the charge by Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega that in addition to its public report, the Kissinger commission also had secretly recommended that the US invade both Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The US does need to provide such military weaponry and transport - but not troops - as the Salvadorean Army legitimately needs. But it also must see progress on the human rights front.

The Salvadorean government must act so as to convince its understandably skeptical citizenry that from this time forward human rights of all its people are being respected. Otherwise no amount of aid, military or economic, is likely to prevent the nation from succumbing to the rebel group, which originally sought primarily economic justice but by now is considerably influenced by Marxist forces.

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