Government security forces in El Salvador have engaged in a high level of violence against land-reform beneficiaries and workers, says sources in the American labor movement.
Reagan adminstration officials have said that land reform is a key to the US-supported government's winning its war against leftist guerillas. But if recent investigations are any indication, the United States may now be in the position of increasing support for government security forces who are undermining another US-supported program considered vital to the Central American nation's security -- namely land reform.
According to the American Institute of Free Labor Development (AIFLD), an AFL-CIO-sponsored organization that has been providing technical support to El Salvador's land reform program through participating unions, investigations conducted by the Salvadoran Agrarian Reform Institute (ISTAe of 184 assassinations of land reform beneficiaries and workers are significant. Covering an eight-month period, from March through October 1980, the investigations indicate that 133 -- or more than 70 percent of those assassinated --were killed by government security forces or people associated with them. The forces in question include military men, police, paramilitary units, and a right-wing terrorist group with links to the government Treasury police.
Although much has been said about the more than 12,000 killings in El Salvador over the past year, little evidence has been produced to support various allegations.
Investigations by the Salvadoran government have been perfunctory at best. The ISTA study appears to be the only one of its kind. It tends to support allegations by Robert White, the former US ambassador to El Salvador, who has declared that more assassinations of innocent civilians have been carried out there by the government's security forces than by any other group.
As the US commits itself to sending more aid and military advisers to El Salvador, one of the key questions being asked here is whether the additional assistance can add to the leverage the US has to help stop such killings. The AFL-CIO, for its part, has taken the position that the US should link the continuation of aid to El Salvador to progress on three key steps: land reform, early elections, and an end to the terror being carried out by government security forces and right-wing groups associated with them.
AIFLD has lost two of its own representatives, Michael hammer and Mark Pearlman, to violence in El Salvador. On Jan. 4 assassins entered the coffee shop of the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador and shot the two, together with Jose Rodolfo Viera, president of the Institute for Agrarian Reform. Last month, six weeks after the three assassinations. AIFLD issued a statement accusing the Salvadoran government of "inaction" in brining the assassins to justice.
In testimony Feb. 25, AIFLD executive director William C. Doherty Jr. told the sub-committee on foreign operations of the House Appropriations Committee that as long as the ruling junta in El Salvador is unable to stop rightist violence, "it obviously cannot win the political support of the citizenry subject to that terror."
According to Mr. Doherty, there have been 10,000 murders in El Salvador over a one-year period. They have included the killings of three American Roman Catholic nuns and a lay worker, the two trade unionists, and a journalist. But not been a single arrest or conviction has been carried out by the government.
Several Democratic members f the sub-committee who heard Doherty's testimony apparently agree with his view. But they are not sure that the Reagan administration, with its deemphasis on human rights and its emphasis on sucurity concerns, will push hard either for land reform or for an end to the killings that are carried out by members of the government security forces and their friends.
US State Department officials say as many as 20 percent of the officer corps in the Salvadoran Army are extreme rightists and that among them can be found backers of assassination squads that have taken the lives of innocent civilians, including land-reform workers and beneficiaries.
Leonel Gomez, a former adviser to the assassinated Mr. Rodolfo Viera, thinks support for the terror and killings from within the officer corps is more widespread that the State Department officials say and that it is indeed, virtually institutionalized.
After receiving threats on his life, which he says come from the Army, and after having government troops surround his home in apparent preparation to kill him, Mr. Gomez fled El Salvador. Now in the US, he says the civilian president of El Salvador, Jose Napoleon Duarte, has no real power. The Army is in control , according to Gomez, and the US is giving military aid to a "killer government."
Gomez estimates that Salvadoran guerrillas are actively supported by about 100,000 people among the population of 4.7 million. He estimates that an additional half-million persons offer passive support. In his view, the guerrillas do not have the kind of support the Sandinista guerrillas had in Nicaragua. Most of the population is too busy just trying to survive to support any one, he says. The junta, he says, has virtually no support. He contends that by sending American military advisers to El Salvador, the US will only exacerb ate the situation.