ANY illusions that the bloody, decade-long Salvadoran civil war would be quickly brought to a close were laid to rest this week when peace talks stalled in Costa Rica. Three days of talks ended Wednesday night without any agreement other than to continue the negotiations to which the rightist government and the leftist rebels committed themselves in Mexico last month. Both sides say they will meet again in Caracas, Venezuela, Nov. 20-21.
Meanwhile, the home of Ruben Zamora - leftist leader and member of the Democratic Convergence, the political ally of the FMLN - was rocked by a powerful bomb yesterday that injured two security men, according to Reuters. Zamora said he thought the aim of the attack was to intimidate those working for a negotiated solution to the war.
The joint communiqu'e issued at the talks skirted the basic issue separating the two sides: whether to negotiate reforms before or after a cease-fire.
The guerrilla Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN) proposed a cease-fire following reforms by the government, a purge of the armed forces, respect for human rights, and democratic freedoms to lay the groundwork for their formation as a legal political party.
President Alfredo Cristiani's government proposed an immediate end to fighting and the disbanding of rebel forces as a first step.
The rebels rejected the government's proposal as ``unreal,'' saying it was in effect calling for a rebel surrender before negotiations.
Oscar Santamar'ia, who heads the government delegation, said the guerrillas had created an ``obstacle to advancement'' by expanding their proposal.
One of the touchiest points has been the FMLN's call for the ``self-purification'' of the Salvadoran military, which has a record of human rights abuses against leftists. In the Costa Rican meeting, the FMLN added a call for the retirement of the Army's top leadership, including the influential 1966 military academy graduating class known as the Tandona.
The debate over the role of the military is likely to be one of the most difficult issues to be dealt with in the peace process.
Underlying the opposing proposals of the government and the rebels are radically different assessments of Salvadoran reality. The government says it has achieved its legitimacy through elections and that the country is a functioning democracy. The government normally calls the FMLN ``terrorists'' and says it is being generous by offering to give them an amnesty and allow them to participate in politics.
The rebels say the wealthy landowners backing the government are unwilling to confront their responsibility for the origins of the war - an repressive social structure that has maintained the country's extreme social and economic disparities.
Hard-liners on the right and in the military caution against lowering their guard against the FMLN, saying that communists can't be trusted to honor their promises.
``Cristiani will have to sell the idea of concessions to some in his own party and to the military,'' says Ignacio Martin-Baro, vice rector of the Central American University in San Salvador.
``The mere fact that they [both sides] didn't break off the talks is a great success,'' Mr. Martin-Baro says. ``Any other hopes for greater achievements from the meeting were wishful thinking, which everyone had hoped for. But if you look at the problems underneath, it is unreal and naive to have expected immediate results.''