WORLD

Washington takes the initiative

ANNE NELSON March 28 1983
WORLD

Washington takes the initiative

ANNE NELSON March 28 1983

Washington takes the initiative

EL SALVADOR

Above the rubble-strewn streets of Berlin, the Stars and Stripes fluttered last week from a pole next to the flag of El Salvador. Refugee laborers worked to repair the devastation that resulted when government troops retook the city from Salvadoran rebels after a series of deadly skirmishes. At the same time, posters bearing the red, white and blue insignia of the U.S. state department’s Agency for International Development (AID) reminded local residents that Washington is financing a $350,000 pilot project to rebuild Berlin’s infrastructure. The program, designed by the Americans but controlled by the government of President Alvaro Magaña, is part of a major new attempt to win the confidence of civilians. But that task will not be easy. “First, the Americans send the money for planes to bomb us,” a homeless Berlin woman complained. “Then they send the money to reconstruct. We have every kind of plague here.”

The reconstruction of Berlin is only the first stage in Washington’s latest pacification initiative in Central America. The program is reminiscent of the U.S. Civil Operations and Rural Development Supports (CORDS) in Vietnam— an effort to break guerrilla influence decisively. If Congress agrees to provide the remaining funding for the undertaking, the plan will be implemented in several stages. U.S.-trained Salvadoran troops will launch concentrated attacks on rebel strongholds, particularly in the strategic province of San Vicente, as well as in Usulután, where Berlin is located. Then AID and its Salvadoran counterpart, the Salvadoran National Commission for Regional Restoration, will fund public works projects to bolster civilian trust in the Magaña government. And, to ensure that the guerrillas do not slip back into cleared regions, civil defence forces will be charged with maintaining effective screening operations.

Administration officials contend that the plan will stop an alarming fivemonth series of rebel advances, including the unprecedented capture in January of the town of Berlin. But before the mission begins, Congress must approve an additional $110 million in military aid for the 1983 fiscal year and another $67 million in economic assistance on top of the $204.8 million already cleared. And Representative Clarence D. Long (D-Md.), for one, whose assent is crucial because of his position as chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, says that he is still not convinced that

the planned measures will produce peace. President Ronald Reagan refuses to pursue negotiations with the guerrillas until after the Salvadoran election next December, and Long has threatened to cut further assistance unless the talks start soon. Said Long: “The administration has to understand that without a broad-based political solution, they’re not going to get the money. I’m not going to support throwing money down a bigger and bigger rathole.”

The U.S. experience in Vietnam has left many Americans wary of increasing the country’s involvement in El Sal-

vador. And the numerous similarities between the Salvadoran program and its predecessor, CORDS, do not end with comparisons of the military and economic mix. For one thing, most of the 50 U.S. military advisers currently operating in El Salvador served one or more tours in Vietnam. But administration spokesmen strongly defended the new initiative last week. In an angry appearance before a Senate foreign relations subcommittee, Undersecretary of De-

fense Fred Ikle castigated Washington’s European allies for “refusing to help those who want to build up democracy in El Salvador and other Central American countries.” For his part, the assistant secretary for inter-American affairs, Thomas Enders, declared, “If El Salvador falls, no country in Central America will be safe.”

Some critics of the Reagan administration’s new deal in El Salvador argue that the CORDS program in Vietnam— which is generally considered to have been a success—encountered problems because of weak management and corruption on the part of Vietnamese officials. Those same difficulties, the critics contend, may arise in El Salvador. Still, the U.S. ambassador in San Salvador, Deane R. Hinton, says that “the [Vietnam] doctrine of how you deal with these insurgencies is applicable with some variations elsewhere.” But even Berlin’s mayor, Santiago Yazbek Batres, a member of the rightwing Alianza Republicano Nacionalista party, expressed concern that corruption will eat away much of the U.S. AID funds intended for his city. Said Yazbek: “The loans start at the central reserve bank and get passed down. By the time everyone gets his cut, who knows what will be left for us.”

In addition, even if Washington can overcome domestic opposition to the program and ensure that the funds are administered properly, it may still fail to win Salvadorans’ confidence. In the past both massive sweeps by troops and the use of civil defence patrois, like the armed § forces, have caused extensive human rights g abuses. Doubts about the government’s support for human rights arose again last week when the president of the El Salvador Human Rights Commission, Marianella Garcia Villas, was slain near San Salvador. The defence ministry said she was killed in cross fire. But the commission claimed that she had been murdered by government-linked forces.

Meanwhile, the proposed pacification scheme demands a “with us or against us” commitment from civilians, and that could lead to a new reign of fear in Berlin and in El Salvador generally.

ANNE NELSON