Little progress expected at talks between Duarte, rebels. Salvadorean leader's decision to meet seen as tactical move
San Salvador — Prospects for real progress in talks between the government of President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte and El Salvador's leftist rebels seem slight, according to political analysts and diplomats. The positions of both sides are far apart and do not appear to have moved any closer since President Duarte broke off peace talks a year and a half ago.
The main change, analysts say, is the weakening of Duarte's political position because of his unpopular economic austerity measures implemented in January, and the 6-year civil war, which seems to be grinding on without an end in sight. Almost all analysts see Duarte's June 1 offer to talk with the rebels this summer as a direct attempt to shore up his sagging popularity.
``Duarte needs time and he has bought himself a couple of months,'' a Western European diplomat says. ``It was an astute move. Still, I'm not too optimistic about the outcome.''
Analysts see Duarte's surprise decision to talk as a tactical move that would:
Rebuild his image as a peacemaker.
Buy time to allow the economy to improve and allow memories of recent price hikes, attributed to his austerity plan, to fade.
Reduce criticism from the labor movement.
Give the impression of progress toward peace in Central America, especially following this month's failure of the five Central American nations to sign the Contadora Central American peace pact.
Help the Reagan adminstration's strategy to oust Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista government by contrasting Duarte's peace talks with the Sandinistas' refusal to negotiate with the US-financed ``contra'' rebels.
Serious peace talks would face opposition from the Army and the United States, analysts say.
``The Army is convinced that it is winning the war. The United States as well. This doesn't leave much room for progress in the talks,'' says an academic at the Jesuit-run Central American University.
Although the Army supports the talks because it views them as politically beneficial for Duarte, that support could evaporate if the talks were to drag on too long or if the rebels were benefiting from the talks. Analysts say that Army and right-wing opposition was a major factor in Duarte's stopping the 1984 peace talks after just two meetings.
Analysts also say that peace talks implicitly give the rebels recognition and legitimacy -- something the Army and government have worked hard to take away.
The Army has set the same condition on the coming talks as it did before the first round of peace talks in 1984 -- that the negotiations take place within the framework of the 1983 Constitution. But this would rule out the rebels' two main proposals: Forming a transitional government of ``broad participation,'' and merging the rebel army with the government Army. Failure in the talks would hurt Duarte more than the rebels, one Latin American diplomat says.
``The risk to Duarte is enormous,'' says one Salvadorean political analyst. ``Just think of the frustration of [the] people if the dialogue fails -- creating false expectations and then dashing them. The risk is of totally losing credibility.''
Many Salvadoreans favor negotiations to end the war. Many see the war as responsible for the 50 percent under- and unemployment, the 50 percent drop in real income, and austerity measures.
Some observers say that only the mobilization of those who are directly suffering the effects of the war will counterbalance the influence of the powerful forces in the Army and the right-wing political parties and private sector which favor a military solution.
The two principal promoters of dialogue are the labor movement and the Roman Catholic Church.
``The workers and the public in general have to push the two sides to end this serious conflict that we all suffer,'' says peasant leader Ram'on Mendoza. ``The chances of success will improve to the degree that . . . democratic forces push for success.''
The Catholic Church has also been an advocate of dialogue. Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas mediated and helped arrange the logistical details of the 1984 meetings. Still, many think the church should be doing more than just verbally supporting dialogue.
``The problem is that the church is afraid to be more active,'' says one peasant leader. ``The church is afraid of suffering the persecution it suffered in the past. But we expect more of the church of the poor.''
In early June, the clandestine rebel radio station criticized the archbishop for being an apologist for the government when he gave a favorable evaluation of Duarte's two years in office during his June 1 homily. The rebels said they were losing faith in him as a mediator. The archbishop is a longtime sympathizer of the Christian Democratic Party, which family members helped found.
Some expect the rebels will ask that the rector of the Jesuit Central American University, Ignacio Ellacuria, be added as a mediator. Mr. Ellacuria is more critical of the government, the Army, and the US role than the archbishop. Both served as intermediaries in arranging the release of Duarte's kidnapped daughter last fall.