Salvador politico works the crowds

Francisco Magana, the mayor of Nahuizalco, stands outside the village church waiting for the arrival of the National Conciliation Party (PCN) presidential candidate, Francisco Jose Guerrero.

''I've been a party member for 20 years,'' he explains, ''and most people here have always been PCN supporters. In fact, up in the hills around the town a lot of people still think the PCN is the official government party.''

The western part of El Salvador, largely unaffected by the civil war, has been politically malleable by whomever is in power since an abortive Indian uprising in 1932. That revolt, led by communist organizer Augustin Farabundo Marti, was particularly violent. Thousands of Indians were executed by the Army in reprisal.

Some 2,000 residents of Nahuizalco - more than half the town's population - were executed, according to Mayor Magana. Many stores here still have deep machete gashes from the brief rebel occupation.

As Mr. Guerrero arrives at the town hall, the theme song of ''Star Wars'' is playing and supporters outside are setting off fireworks.

The short, stocky candidate reminds his listeners of their Indian heritage and the resistance they put up against the Spanish conquistadors. He does not mention the uprising in 1932.

''In the same way,'' he shouts, ''we must resist the communists.

''With the same spirit with which we fought the Spanish conquistadors, we will stop the Soviets from taking power here.''

Some people think this is a curious statement, since the PCN is a descendant of the first official government party, Pro-Patria. This party was formed by Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who crushed the 1932 Indian revolt.

Guerrero, however, is a warm and apparently affable man. He is described by those around him as a ''consummate politician.'' He seems to skirt confrontation by not addressing major issues.

The PCN candidate's only concrete proposal to end the civil war is to expand the membership of the government's now dormant Peace Commission. The commission was formed to investigate the possibility of dialogue with the left.

Guerrero has defended the three internal security forces, which many critics have charged with involvement in death squad activity as well as gross violation of human rights.

''I'm convinced that those running the National Police and Treasury Police are honorable men,'' Guerrero says, ''who deplore the atrocities of these clandestine death squads.''

He refuses to say whether he supports the nation's agrarian reform program. He says if he is elected, he will make it ''economically feasible.'' But given his past opposition to reform and his close ties to figures in the National Republic Alliance (ARENA), many observers do not expect Guerrero to champion the reform.

''In short,'' a US official says, ''I think we can expect Guerrero to maintain the status quo, which is essentially a conservative one.''

The PCN, formed in 1961, ruled El Salvador for almost 20 years. Col. Julio Rivera founded the party to replace the Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unification, which had been the ruling party since 1950.

The function of the two official parties that preceded the PCN was to esconce its founders, the oligarchy and the military, in power and to ensure the continuation of that power. This was also the original function of the PCN. Colonel Rivera did allow an electoral opposition to emerge in the 1960s, but once that opposition threatened the power of the PCN, it was crushed by force.

Guerrero himself was a founding member of the PCN and has served several times as the party's secretary-general. He has also served as a lawyer for the Salvadorean Cotton Cooperative, which promotes the interests of the major cotton growers of El Salvador.

The PCN government tried in 1976 to push through a modest agrarian reform under the administration of Col. Arturo Molina in response to growing unrest by the many landless migrant workers. But one of the main crusaders against the proposed reform was Guerrero.

A pilot area was chosen in the eastern cotton-producing lowlands, in the provinces of San Miguel and Usulutan. There, according to government figures, five families owned 21.5 percent of the land, while 70.5 percent of the families owned 6.2 percent of the land.

The reform project, which was supported by the United States, attempted to expropriate 120,000 acres, bought at full market price. The land was to have been distributed in small plots to 12,000 peasant families. But the plan was broken by the large landowners.

''I was one of those who fought against the Molina reform,'' Guerrero says, ''because this reform was economically unfeasible. It would have killed the economy of the country.''

Later, in the 1979 reformist coup that ousted PCN President Carlos Humberto Romero, the PCN lost the control it had exercised. The broad coalition government in 1979 excluded the PCN from even minimal power-sharing.

By the time of the 1982 elections for a Constituent Assembly, however, the PCN, loosely allied with the new and more ideological ARENA, began to reemerge as a political force.

Guerrero is the party official most capable of rebuilding the constituency, many observers say.

''It was Guerrero's job to make sure constituent services were delivered and to remember whose aunt was sick, or your daughter's name,'' says a close friend of the candidate. ''He was the party figure who made sure the local ward heelers could do their job.''

And Guerrero defends the PCN's political record, saying that when in power it held elections every two years and worked in the interest of the people.

After his speech Guerrero leads his audience next door to the 130-year-old church to ''thank God for all we have.''

As he leaves the church and climbs into his Jeep Cherokee, a local band serenades his exit.

''We play for all the candidates that arrive here,'' says the group's leader, Alberto Rojas.

''In this country it's best to be as neutral as possible and make sure you're in the good graces of whoever has power.''

Previous stories were published March 5, 6, 7, and 8.m

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