With the resolution of the kidnapping of Jose Napoleon Duarte's daughter, there are small glimmers of optimism for a break in El Salvador's six-year civil war. Some observers say, by underscoring the fact that El Salvador's civil war is probably unwinnable, the Duarate kidnapping could prove an impetus to the eventual resumption of peace talks.
They also note that the complex negotiations leading to the release of In'es Duarte and the swap of political prisoners hints at the possibilities for future cooperation.
``The argument that it's not possible to make negotiations has been put on its head,'' says Terry Karl, a professor of government at Harvard University. ``If they could pull off a complicated deal like this, it says a lot for the possibility of negotiations.''
Dr. Karl says resolution of the hostage-taking could spur cooperation in other areas, including measures to humanize the civil war and to limit economic sabotage. Such confidence-building steps could, in time, lead to negotiations on larger issues that caused the peace talks to founder last year.
Hopes for a cessation of hostilities first rose, then fell, last year when President Duarte initiated peace talks with guerrilla leaders. In a speech yesterday to the National Press Club in Washington, Duarte blamed the eventual collapse of the talks on links between the guerrilla factions and outside powers, including Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
But to get to, and succeed in, negotiations, major obstacles will have to be circumvented. The kidnapping episode has weakened Duarte's standing with the Salvadoran officer corps, which can veto any decision to renew peace talks.
Moreover, major divisions remain on issues such as demands of guerrilla leaders for power-sharing in a new Salvadoran government and progress by the Duarte government on land and human-rights reforms. ``President Duarte's civilian government notwithstanding, the human rights situation remains terrible,'' concludes a recent Americas Watch report on El Salvador.
There is also the problem of integrating El Salvador's two large military forces once peace terms are finally negotiated.
Following the unexpected success of Duarte's Christian Democratic party in army -- backed by extensive US aid --appeared to take a turn for the better.
But the Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN) -- an umbrella group of five rebel organizations -- adapted effectively, regrouping into smaller units capable of sustaining low-intensity warfare. This was demonstrated vividly last June when guerrillas killed four US Marines and nine civilians.
Right now, the Reagan administration appears to be divided on both the prospects for victory or for negotiation. But reflecting Duarte's immense popularity in the administration and on Capitol Hill, aid to the Duarte government has soared to over half a billion dollars a year -- an amount equal to half of Salvador's annual national budget.
In action Tuesday, a Senate subcommitte postponed until next spring action on a Reagan administration request for $54 million to strengthen military and police forces of American allies in Central America. The request, which was triggered by last summer's killing of the four US Marines, earmarks $22 million for El Salvador.
In his speech yesterday, Duarte defended his handling of the 44-day crisis created by the kidnapping of his daughter, In'es Guadalupe Duarte Duran. The Salvadoran leader denounced terrorists as ``not Robin Hoods, not Joan of Arcs but sick individuals.'' Duarte also accused Nicaragua of complicity in the incident, saying Nicaragua was the ``source'' of terrorism and the ``center and headquarters'' of Salvadoran leftist groups responsible for the kidnapping.
(In a statement issued yesterday, the Nicaraguan government described Duarte's accusation as a ``smokescreen'' designed to ``evade his responsibilities by blaming others.'')
Ms. Duarte was kidnapped on September 10th by rebels aligned with the FMLN. Her release last week included an exchange of over l50 political prisoners.
Duarte's willingness to negotiate with his daughter's captors drew criticism at home. But in his address to the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, Duarte insisted it was the will of the Salvadoran people to negotiate to save his daughter and 33 Salvadoran mayors and local officials held hostage by the rebels.