Salvador right reassured by peace impasse

Right-wingers here, made uneasy by October's opening of peace talks with the leftist rebels, have been somewhat reassured by subsequent events. They are relieved to see the hard line President Duarte has taken toward the rebels' most recent demands. And they find comfort in the current perception that the peace talks are going nowhere.

Still the right remains basically hostile to the very idea of negotiations with the leftists, who are commonly labeled by right-wing newspapers, political parties, business leaders, and the military as ''terrorists'' or ''subversives.''

Roberto d'Aubuisson, leader of the ultra-right ARENA party, said recently in Washington, ''I can guarantee that the Salvadorean people have gained nothing from these conversations. The only ones who have gotten something are the Marxists. They have a recognition like they've never had before.''

''Why talk with them at all?'' asked a wealthy Salvadorean widow. ''Why not just wipe them (the rebels) out?''

After the initial shock of President Duarte's unexpected peace talks proposal at the United Nations, and after the unpleasant sight of the rebels addressing a nationwide television audience after the opening Oct. 15 La Palma talks, the right moved into stronger opposition.

Ten days before the second peace meeting in Ayagualo on Nov. 30 the rightists' National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) issued a statement cautioning against the talks and warning that ''the terrorist groups would be the only ones to benefit from the breathing space in the military battle that is clearly going well for the armed forces.''

ANEP also withdrew its three members from the government peace commission that had been set up to formulate the government position on the talks. The commission had accomplished little, according to disenchanted union leaders who were part of the commission.

At the same time, rumors of unrest in the Army were circulating.

''I cannot ignore rumors that there were people of the right trying to get connected to military people so they would be able to stop or put a halt on this pacification process (peace talks),'' Duarte admitted in a press conference Nov. 23. ''But I can tell you that they failed to do this.''

Duarte said he contacted the field commanders and they told him they would support the dialogue process. Still, the episode shows that despite his formal title of commander in chief, Duarte's control over the armed forces, which continue to be the country's most powerful institution, remains uncertain.

Roberto d'Aubuisson, himself a former major in the armed forces, has been paying ''courtesy calls'' at Army barracks across the country. His purpose has been to prepare local ARENA cadre for the important March elections to the Constituent Assembly. But Salvadorean political observers say D'Aubuisson also has been one of the right's envoys to military officers to urge them to halt or limit the peace talk process.

Local political analysts believe that Duarte has the support of the high command of the Army but that many of the field commanders are less solidly behind him. Rightist officers, many of them in the same graduating class as D'Aubuisson, reportedly command six of the country's major barracks, including three of the elite US-trained immediate reaction battalions.

A Salvadorean political observer says that the peace talks and the death of Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa in late October - in a helicopter crash that many officers believe was caused by a bomb - has upset the ''precarious political balance in the armed forces.'' Monterrosa, who was considered the Army's best field commander and who had been chosen to run the war in the eastern part of the country, was influential among the colonels and a supporter of Duarte.

Now things are more volatile, and rightists in the military who never particularly liked Duarte or wanted peace talks are watching the President and the dialogue process with new distrust, according to local political observers.

The armed forces reportedly were angered by the rebels' peace proposal. Among other things, it called for the removal of officers who had participated in death squads or the massacres of civilians. The rebels proposed a Zimbabwe-type solution where a new national Army would be created by merging the ''purified'' government Army and the rebel forces. The Monday after the rebel proposal was made, the high command and the commanders of the country's major barracks met for five hours behind closed doors.

D'Aubuisson says the dialogue process has been ''frustrating'' and ''negative'' for the military, but ''they have complied out of discipline.''

''I know there is no sympathy in the military ranks for the dialogue because they already knew what the proposals (of the rebels) were,'' he emphasized.

Still, diplomatic observers say the right, including rightists in the military, has been reassured at least in part by the government's hard line against the rebels and the perception that the talks, as D'Aubuisson noted, have ''practically failed already.''

President Duarte and his negotiating team went on government television immediately after the Nov. 30 Ayagualo talks to denounce the rebels as ''intransigent'' and to accuse them of trying to end the dialogue process. Duarte refused to consider the rebels' proposal, calling it ''unconstitutional.''

After watching the government's performance, D'Aubuisson, who had called Duarte a communist during last spring's presidential elections, congratulated his old political foe and quipped that if the picture had been turned off on the television and only the sound heard, ''it would have appeared to be an ARENA conference. . . .''

Nonetheless, academic analysts note that the right is still concerned about the possibility that Duarte can use the powerful issue of peace to win control of the Constituent Assembly - a domain of the right since 1982 - in the coming March elections. At stake is the right's ability to veto or stifle economic reforms that would hurt its interests.

The private sector has traditionally been hostile to Duarte and the Christian Democrats with their image and their talk of reforms. After his election, however, President Duarte made ''strong concessions'' to the private sector, an academic analyst says.

Duarte has passed both cotton and sugar cane to the parallel market, increasing the profits from the exports of these products. The private sector has also noted that it is benefiting from the economic aid Duarte has received from the United States. Most credits have been directed to the private sector.

The peace talks, according to the academic, raised new uncertainties about Duarte: ''The private sector has demanded new guarantees'' and is ''raising the price of its collaboration with the government.''

That ''increased price'' is taking the form of demands by farm export producers for higher guaranteed prices. But the private sector has longer-term goals - a rollback of the 1980 reforms, beginning with the return to private hands of the profitable marketing of export crops.

This effort is being spearheaded by the powerful Coffee Growers Association, which is demanding the abolition of the government's coffee marketing institute, INCAFE.

With the harvest season just beginning, the coffee growers are in a strong bargaining position with the government. Duarte has accused the Coffee Growers' Association of trying to ''destabilize'' his government.

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