Central American peace plan could stall on Salvador. Salvador insurgency could be tougher to halt than Nicaragua war
San Salvador — El Salvador's position will be the most complex and difficult to resolve under the terms of the Aug. 7 peace accord signed by five Central American Presidents in Guatemala. This is the view of a number of diplomats, politicians, Army officers, political analysts, and leftist rebels interviewed here. As a result, there is widespread skepticism that the peace plan will end El Salvador's seven-year-old civil war.
Analysts say that unlike the Nicaraguan rebels, who are almost totally dependent on US aid and who have their bases and infrastructure in Honduras, the Salvadorean guerrillas are a strong, homegrown revolutionary force much less dependent on external aid.
The main, and longstanding, problem in getting the rebels and the government to hold talks is that both have different agendas. The government wants the rebels to lay down arms and join the ``democratic'' process. The rebels want to be included in a reformed government composed of all the political sectors.
Recent attempts by President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte and the rebels to meet to discuss a cease-fire seem to be stalling, political observers say. Although both Mr. Duarte and the rebels initially agreed to dialogue last week, problems have arisen within the last few days.
Duarte said he will talk only if the rebels publicly commit themselves to the accord, which Duarte interprets as requiring the rebels to lay down their arms. The rebels say they want an unconditional dialogue.
The accord calls on: ``The governments of these states to commit themselves to undertake all the necessary steps for achieving an effective cease-fire within the constitutional framework.'' Analysts say the wording is vague and does not specify the necessary steps for achieving a cease-fire, implicity leaving it up to each government.
The peace plan calls for a cease-fire to begin 90 days from the Aug. 7 signing.
Peace talks between the government and the rebels last occurred in November 1984. They ended after two meetings. The rebels have generally pushed to reopen the talks but the government has resisted, pressured by groups - such as the rightist parties and the military - who are opposed to dialogue.
Most recently, Duarte rejected a rebel peace proposal for ``humanizing the conflict.''
The head of the Salvadorean Army, considered the country's most powerful institution, says he thinks peace is unlikely and blames the guerrillas. ``I don't think there will be peace,'' says Defense Minister Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova. ``The terrorists are not ready to accept or enter into a democratic process.''
``I would like to be optimistic,'' says one Western diplomat, ``but you have to ask: `Have the positions really changed?' Not really,'' he adds. ``If the government says the only thing to be done is [the rebels] laying down their arms, then we're back to Square 1.''
Many analysts doubt the government wants the dialogue to succeed. ``There are many people in the government and the Army that wish that the issue of dialogue hadn't been forced on them, but they can't risk international disapproval by rejecting dialogue,'' says the diplomat. ``Now, if it fails [Duarte] can say he has tried.''
A Latin diplomat who feels the signing of the accord was positive, but who is pessimistic about the possibilities here, says Duarte ``should have offered to talk openly with the guerrillas, without setting conditions.''
The rightist political parties have criticized the peace plan, and Duarte for signing it. But analysts say the right's opposition has been relatively restrained.
Meanwhile, Duarte has reported on the plan to business groups and progovernment labor unions. He has also started the formation of the National Reconciliation Commission as stipulated by the peace plan.
The commission's purpose is to verify that the peace plan is being carried out. The accord states that each government must choose four delegates - from the executive branch, the Roman Catholic Church, the legally registered political opposition parties, and an outstanding citizen - to comprise the commission. The government has chosen only one delegate so far: that of outstanding citizen - Alvaro Magana, a former president.
Since all the political opposition parties here are right-wing, many analysts question how forming a commission of the government and the right will help end a civil war that is between the government and the left.