Washington's mounting concern over the possibility of a rightist coup in El Salvador is not without reason. Rightist rumblings have been evident for weeks. In particular, right-wing elements are gearing up to do battle with the Left -- and to prevent leftist elements from carrying out their own protests.
On at least three occasions since Jan. 1, rightist gunmen have shot up leftist demonstrations in San Salvador, killing nearly 75 persons.
But it is more than such incidents, no matter how horrendous they are, that causes Washington's concern over a rightist effort to topple El Salvador's joint civilian-military government.
The ultra-Right in the Salvadorean Army was never happy with the ouster of Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero that put the junta in power last Oct. 15. Although many rightist officers were put on inactive duty in October, they have jockeyed for power ever since.
Some joined the Organizacion Democratica Nacionalista (commonly known by its acronym, ORDEN, Spanish for order), a rightist group run by former military officers. Others quietly work among their military colleagues to stir opposition to the junta. Still others are involved in a variety of right- wing groups that seek to stem the economic and social changes being called for by the junta.
"We must stop the wild-eyed efforts of the 'do-gooders' at all costs," says a colonel on inactive duty who has joined ORDEN. "If this means killing the junta , then we will do it. But there is one thing that is certain: We should get rid of all the leftists, and that is what we intend to do."
For its part, the joint military-civilian junta is gamefully trying to bring about changes in El Salvador, to curb the power of the traditional oligarchy and to bring a degree of economic improvement to the impoverished masses of the overpopulated Central American country.
"There is no other way to solve our current dilemmas," says Jose Antonio Morales Erlich, a Christian Democratic politician who is the leading civilian on the junta. "Change is absolutely necessary in El Salvador. Economic change. Social change. Political change. In short, change of just about everything."
For both the Left and the Right, such talk is anathema.
The Left argues that it is not change, but revolution that is needed, and half a dozen different left-wing organizations are busy trying to foment revolution.Through killings, kidnappings, seizures of government buildings, embassies, churches, and other terrorist actions, the Left has brought the country to a situation of virtual anarchy.
The Right argues that the country would be at peace were it not for the chantings of the Left. So, in its view, the course of action that should be followed is strong-arm tactics to defeat the Left -- no matter what the cost.
Part of its program is clearly the unseating of the moderate, reform-minded junta, which it would replace with a rightist government that would take up arms against the Left and, as an ORDEN spokesman put it, "destroy the Left."
In Washington's view, ORDEN and other right-wing groups are on the verge of doing just that -- seizing power and carrying out a massive military campaign against the Left.