Salvadorean hopes for a new era fade. Duarte seen as failing to deliver promised peace and prosperity

President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte marked three years in office last month by calling for national unity and announcing an ambitious 56-point political program. But many diplomats and political analysts say he has little chance of achieving either goal in his remaining two years in the presidency. One Latin American diplomat comments bleakly on President Duarte's future: ``Given Duarte's weakness, his project for the next two years will be nothing more than survival and keeping the United States content so it will continue to support him.''

Popular support for Mr. Duarte has eroded in the last three years, many political observers here say. They attribute this to his inability to bring peace and prosperity to the country - two principal promises of his 1984 presidential campaign. Top government officials privately acknowledge the President's weakening position. Publicly, they are saying very little.

Despite Duarte's drop in popularity, he remains stronger than his opponents, who have not capitalized on his loss of support. This fact - coupled with the large amount of aid the US gives the government, much of which goes to the military - has guaranteed that Duarte will be able to serve out his six-year term, say political analysts. In the current fiscal year, El Salvador has received $770 million, making it the third largest recipient of US aid in the world.

But diplomats and political analysts say that Duarte has failed at what they see as a more important task - creating a government that can win the people's allegiance by convincing them that it is different from the corrupt and repressive ones of the past.

``Ask an average man what democracy has done for him, and he would say, `Very little,''' says a West European diplomat. ``Over the next two years, there will be a lot more disenchantment with the process. The problems will be much greater than they are now - continued contraction of economic activity and continued inflation.'' The average person has seen a loss of more than half his real income since the war began in 1979.

Economists here say that with over half the budget going to support the war and with world prices for the country's main export, coffee, remaining low, the economy will continue to deteroriate.

But the disillusionment goes deeper and relates to intangibles - such as the hope for a sharp break with the past that Duarte and the Christian Democrats seemed to represent to Salvadoreans who voted them into office.

``In the past, nobody expected anything from the military governments, all through 50 years of military rule,'' says a former Christian Democrat, who left the party in 1980 to join the rebel-allied Popular Social Christian movement. ``With the Christian Democrats they [the people] expected something new, something different.''

The Christian Democrat Party was founded in the early 1960s by middle class professionals inspired by the the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. They believed in a ``third way'' between the conservative oligarchies that traditionally ruled in alliance with the military and the Marxist alter represented by Fidel Castro. The Christian Democrats identified with the poor and promised to humanize capitalism with reforms and modernization.

``Now people see that not only have they [the Christian Democrats] abandoned their goals, but also that the Christian Democrats are as bad as the rest,'' the former party member says. ``It's a horrible disillusionment to see a party which preached ethical politics come to power and do exactly the same as the past military parties have done - enrich themselves.''

Although Duarte is untainted by charges of corruption, the press and the political opposition allege that many party leaders use their positions to benefit themselves. In addition corruption charges, analysts attribute the loss of support to the party's abandonment of the reforms they advocated for years as an opposition party.

After carrying out land reform and nationalizing the banks in 1980 in a bid to undercut the leftist rebels and weaken the landed oligarchy, the Christian Democrats have retreated from reforms. Counseled by the US, different political and economic analysts say, they have attempted to conciliate with the powerful rightist upper class, which was needed to make the economy function.

But analysts say Duarte has had limited success in either keeping his populist base with reforms or winning the ultra-conservative private sector with concessions.

Duarte's call for unity with the private sector has fallen on deaf ears. ``He certainly has no base to call for unity because for the last three years he has done the opposite,'' says Victor Steiner, president of the Chamber of Commerce. ``That he has given concessions to the private sector is false.''

The Duarte presidency has been credited with one clear achievement: a dramatic decline in death squad killings. But this has appeared less secure lately with:

Recent death squad threats against students and teachers at the National University.

The torture and attempted murder of two Catholic Church catechists by soldiers in Chalatenango Province.

The killing of five peasants by the Army in northern San Miguel Province.

The killing of a peasant leader and the wounding of a leader of the labor opposition at a demonstration.

The bombing of the office of the Mothers of the Disappeared.

The appearance of bodies in different parts of the country.

``We haven't seen this sort of thing for a long time,'' says a foreign human rights observer. ``It's definitely cause for concern.''

Analysts also say there has been no prosecution of those guilty of the more than 50,000 political murders commited in the early 1980s. ``It's important not to compare present abuses to the height of the death squad killings,'' says Ignacio Martin Baro, vice-rector of the Jesuit Central American University. But ``things are still as, or more, repressive than before the war began in 1979.''

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