Senators Hope to Limit US Aid to Salvador

THEY won't be casting ballots in Sunday's Salvadoran election, but person for person, they may be the most wooed people in the campaign. ``They'' are members of the United States Congress, keepers of the purse strings on an aid program that provides more than half of the Salvadoran government's annual budget.

So when congressmen move to place conditions on that aid, the Salvadorans take it seriously. Two liberal senators were expected Thursday to revive an effort to put what they view as symbolic constraints on US aid. The bill, introduced by Sens. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon and Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, has two provisions:

Withhold half of El Salvador's 1990 military aid until April 1, 1990, by which time President Bush must report on efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the civil war, reduce death-squad activity, and prosecute Army officers guilty of human rights abuses.

Redirect half of Salvador's cash aid to programs for health, water purification, land reform, and other humanitarian concerns.

``We want [the bill] out there as a guidepost, for the US administration and for the Salvadoran military, for where US policy should be going,'' says an aide involved with the legislation.

Supporters of the bill reject the charge that aid restrictions would only play into the hands of the communist guerrillas. Restrictions on US aid in the early 1980s had a positive impact, they say, a point some congressional conservatives concede.

Last June, when Senators Harkin and Hatfield proposed similar legislation, administration officials pulled out all the stops to defeat it.

This time it is a new ball game. Death squads are more active, on the political right as well as the left. President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte, popular in Congress, will soon be gone. Even if his Christian Democratic Party pulls out an election victory, its candidate, Fidel Chavez Mena, is expected to be a weak leader.

But the feeling in Washington is that the rightist National Republican Alliance (ARENA) has the best prospects for victory. And to pave the way for smooth relations here, the party has been trying mightily to overcome the stigma of links to death-squad activity. ARENA's moderate-talking candidate, Alfredo Cristiani, puts in frequent appearances. In a column in Wednesday's New York Times, Mr. Cristiani makes a bid for ``continued support of the United States.''

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