The move toward unity recently announced by El Salvador's five left-wing guerrilla organizations appears to be the unintended result of a government crackdown on rebel activities. The increased military initiative and firepower of President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's government and the rebels' need to maximize the efficiency of their forces spurred this move.
The five groups, often beset by disagreement in the past, announced last week that they are working on forming a united party and a united army.
``We have reached a degree of unity in our political thought in which there are no longer major differences of a strategic character,'' said top guerrilla commander, Leonel Gonz'alez, in a statement on the rebel Radio Venceremos last week.``Our objective is to convert ourselves into one revolutionary party.''
Says one academic analyst: ``The irony is that what was imposed on them [the guerrillas] by the [Army's] surveillance flights and the Army strategy has resulted in their qualitative growth, especially on the political level.''
According to sources close to the guerrillas, this change is already taking place through the matching of organizations that have a surplus of guerrilla fighters with those lacking combatants but having well-established logistical networks.
Commander Gonz'alez's statement is the product of a June meeting of the General Command of the Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN). Though Gonz'alez gave no reason why the announcement was delayed for two months, it is considered significant by political analysts and diplomatic observers here.
``Never has there been such a statement of commitment by the FMLN,'' says the academic analyst. ``It's not a future-oriented statement. It reflects a reality that is already taking place.''
For the past year the FMLN has been in a period of adjustment. During 1982 and 1983, the FMLN maintained the military initiative, but increased United States aid and improvements in the Salvadorean Army have given the government the edge since the beginning of 1984. As a reaction, especially to the government's increased use of air power, the FMLN has had to break down its large units into small guerrilla units.
Although unity has been a goal of the FMLN since its formation as an umbrella group in 1980, the road to it has been rocky. Those seeking unity have had to overcome the historical legacy of bloody factional disputes in the 1970s as well as differing political and military strategies.
Various rebel groups often squabbled over differences in tactical approaches to the guerrilla war. The largest group, the Popular Liberation Forces, favors the ``popular uprising'' approach and wants to establish a support base in the cities. The smaller People's Revolutionary Army advocates a ``war of attrition'' using sabotage to wreck the economy and cause the downfall of the government.
The Radio Venceremos statement showed that the FMLN's new plan encompasses both approaches. It calls for a prolonged war of attrition against the Army and the economy and an ``expansion of and bringing the war to the whole territory, the capital, and the large cities, striking the enemy's rear guard.''
The academic analyst notes that the guerrillas have already expanded the theater of operations into new provinces. He says the FMLN forces, estimated by US officials at 6,000 to 6,500 full-time fighters, are expanding their operations to new areas in provinces where they have already been active. This is in an effort to spread out and tie down the greatly expanded Army and security forces that currently number close to 60,000 men.
Many guerrilla combatants have reportedly been sent to the cities to form urban guerrilla cells or to engage in political organizing. Progress toward unity would aid those efforts in both the military and political spheres. During 1979 and '80, the last period of open left-wing political activity, competition between leftist political groups was a major weakness.
As the political aspects of the war become more important, a united political direction becomes equally important. ``It is such a delicate moment,'' points out the academic analyst, ``that they want to encourage creativity in operations but assure that they have control over the political costs of those operations.''