Alvaro Magana: trying to keep equilibrium in El Salvador

''I knew I was never going to change things in two years,'' says Salvador President Alvaro Alfredo Magana as he prepares to help inaugurate the country's first elected civilian president this century.

''I visualized I was going to change less than I did,'' he says. Nevertheless this banker/lawyer - who was appointed as compromise president after the United States protested the Constituent Assembly's efforts to install ultrarightist Ro- berto d'Aubuisson in the post - thinks his administration has racked up some major accomplishments under difficult conditions.

The outgoing president says an improvement in human rights is one of the hallmarks of his term. Magana also thinks it is accomplishment to have kept all of the mainline political factions within his government.

Bickering and animosity among the three key parties - the Christian Democratic Party, the National Republican Alliance, and the National Conciliation Party - are widely regarded as having left Magana's administration decentralized and ineffective. But Magana himself thinks his low-key, conciliatory style was necessary and has made the difference in keeping the provisional government on an even keel.

Magana says he never hoped to make major changes in the political landscape, but instead strove to maintain an equilibrium among the political factions.

He feels that El Salvador's political system is emerging into a democracy and sees the incoming government as another step forward in the consolidation of the democratic system.

''The (next) government will be in a much better position than I have been because it'll surely be stronger,'' he says. ''I've had to organize some kind of peculiar government, a new kind of government.''

At the same time, the President does not see the current presidential elections as a solution to the 41/2-year civil war.

''It's surely not going to solve the problem,'' he says, ''but our image as a democratic government will be strengthened.''

Magana, who says he is ''kind of pragmatic and realistic,'' does not envision an end to the conflict any time soon. He says the Army needs higher levels of military assistance to strike effectively against the guerrilla forces.

The President estimates that the insurgents have about 8,000 troops. The Salvadorean Army now has more than 30,000 men under arms.

''Military assistance has been given at levels such that, really, we haven't had the capacity to win the war,'' he says. Magana says the communication systems and logistical support systems within the Army are not adequate.

''A modern war,'' Magana says, ''is very expensive.''

Magana says the duration of the conflict will in large part be determined by the support provided by the US.

''You have to take into account, in the first place, the level of military assistance from the US,'' he says.

''The second factor is what could be the level of military assistance that Nicaragua gives to the guerrillas. These are factors that nobody knows.''

Magana does not believe that Army morale is low, despite frequent assertions by some Salvadorean Army officers that motivation is a major problem in the armed forces.

''It would be a tremendous mistake for anyone to consider that morale is bad, '' Maganna says. ''They (the Army) have something to fight for.''

Magana, the former president of the Banco Hipotecario, the nation's largest mortgage bank, stepped out of relative obscurity two years ago to assume the leadership of El Salvador. He was largely uninvolved in politics before he was appointed president.

Magana will leave office after a runoff election in late April or early May determines whether the new chief executive will be Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte or National Republican Alliance candidate Roberto d'Aubuisson.

The saddest moment during his tenure, Magana says, was on Jan. 6, 1983, when Lt. Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez staged a rebellion in the department of Cabanas to protest his transfer to a diplomatic post in Uruguay.

Magana, who issued no statement until the six-day revolt ended, says he spoke to the disgruntled officer almost every night by phone. ''He (Ochoa) called and said, 'It's nothing against you,' '' Magana says. ''He was a good officer.''

The mutiny left Magana feeling ''disappointed, and in a sense frustrated.''

''To have this kind of division in the Army, when all of us should be together'' was distressing, he says.

Magana was born and grew up in Ahuachapan. His parents were wealthy landowners. He retains a coffee estate in the far western province.

One of his earliest childhood memories is of the Matanza, or literally ''the massacre,'' in 1932. The Matanza was a failed attempt by poor, Indian migrant workers to mount an insurrection against the wealthy landowners ruling El Salvador.

Led by Communist organizer Augustin Farabundo Marti, several thousand Indians took over villages in the western region of the country.

The brief revolt was crushed by the nation's future dictator, Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, who had little difficulty contending with the poorly armed peasants.

Following the rebellion, thousands of Indians, many of whom had not participated in the revolt, were executed by the Army. The traditional Indian dress and native language, Nahuatl, were abandoned.

The current guerrilla movement here is named after Marti, who was one of those executed.

''I remember the maid used to take me to the corner to see the trucks of people being taken to the cemetery to be shot,'' Magana says, adding that his parents were not aware of what their servants were doing.

''This is one of the little things I remember.''

''It (the Matanza) was important,'' the Salvadorean President says, ''but unfortunately, no one realized the serious impact of it at the time.

''If I had been in power, I would have started a vigorous program of reforms. At that time the social conditions were not so complicated. It would have been easy to move slowly toward reforms.''

''The sad thing,'' Magana recalls, ''is that it did not affect the society. It should have affected it, and something should have been done, but very little was done.''

Magana plans to leave for the US when his term ends. He says he may study political science at Stanford University. He would like to write a book on public finance.

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