Rebel leader Rub'en Zamora is making his second return to El Salvador today, and this time, he says, it's to stay. With Guillermo Ungo, an exiled co-leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), Dr. Zamora returned here in November to test the political waters. The waters were chilly then. And diplomats and political analysts say Zamora will face some of the same problems as he attempts to stay for a longer period.
The November visit sparked protests from the far right and frustration in the powerful Salvadorean military, and was greeted with ambivalence by the government of President Jos'e Napol'eon Duarte. Military officers were angered that the FDR leaders had been allowed to return without being forced to break ties with the guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
President Duarte threatened that if the FDR did not break with the guerrillas it could be prosecuted for guerrilla actions.
But Zamora and Hector Oqueli - leader of another FDR faction who is accompanying Zamora on this trip - seem determined to return on their own terms, not on those of the government or armed forces. The FDR leaders say they are returning so they can be politically active and to try to form a ``national consensus'' for a negotiated solution to El Salvador's eight-year-old civil war. But they say they have no intention of breaking their seven-year alliance with the FMLN guerrillas.
Although the FDR says it wants to participate politically and has formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Party, it is unlikely to run candidates in the March elections. Part of the reason is lack of funds and party organization. But its hesitancy to run candidates is also due to a distrust of the elections. Both the FDR and FMLN guerrillas see the elections as part of a ``US counterinsurgency strategy'' to legitimize the Duarte government and discredit the rebels.
The FDR's return appears to be spurred by their perception that there is a large political vacuum to the left of Duarte's center-right Christian Democratic Party. So far no political force to the left of the Christian Democrats has managed to hold sway since death squads linked to the military destroyed much of the leftist movement in the early 1980's.
The FDR is unsure whether a powerful left would be permitted. ``The government is happy to have a left, if it is weak,'' says Juan Martell, deputy head of the opposition Social Christian Popular Movement (MPSC) party. ``But if we get stronger, that will be the true test of whether the United States and the centers of power will permit a left,'' he adds.
FDR is encouraged by opinion polls that show dissatisfaction with the available political choices. In a recent poll, 79 percent of the respondents said neither of the two major parties represented them; for the 21 percent who did make a choice, the Democratic Convergence, an alliance between the FDR and the Social Democratic Party, came in third behind Arena, the main right-wing opposition party, and the Christian Democrats. Considering the leftists' lack of campaigning it was a good showing, analysts say.