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Salvadorean labor leaders say land reform is stalled

The main aim of El Salvador's American-supported economic and political reforms is to eliminate the social injustices that have fed the country's leftist-led guerrilla movement.

Of all these reforms, United States and Salvadorean experts consider the land reform program the most vital.

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But leaders of the largest coalition of rural and urban workers in El Salvador say that this important land reform program - which in theory is one of the most comprehensive attempted in Latin America - has been stalled by conservative politicians and landowners.

The leaders of the workers coalition, which is called the Democratic Popular Unity (UPD), also warn that El Salvador's draft constitution, as it now stands, threatens to reverse the land reform program. UPD leaders say pressure from their confederation has caused the largely conservative membership of El Salvador's Constituent Assembly to reconsider controversial sections of the constitution. But they also indicate the issue is far from resolved.

''The way it is now, this is a right-wing constitution,'' said Jorge Alberto Ruiz Camacho, president of ACOPAI, an association of farmers and cooperatives.

The UPD leaders disagree strongly with State Department officials, who continue to insist that the land reform program is still on track. The State Department gave a report to the US Congress on July 20 stating that the awarding of land to new claimants has been accelerated, and protection from illegal eviction has been improved.

UPD leaders acknowledge that some aspects of the third phase of the land reform program are moving forward ''partially,'' but assert that in an overall sense the program is ''stagnant.'' Some progress can be seen, they say, in the distribution of land titles and applications for titles. But they consider evictions of peasant beneficiaries by landowners to be a serious problem.

In the case of Phase One of the program, which dealt with the distribution of large holdings, the labor organizers see many cases where the reform is being reversed. They say that the number of bankrupt rural workers cooperatives is increasing, because of a lack of credits, technical aid, and other support.

Nine UPD leaders were in Washington this week to meet with congressmen, Reagan administration officials, and officers of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the overseas assistance arm of the AFL-CIO.

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AIFLD, which has contracts with the US Agency for International Development (AID), has provided support to member groups in the UPD through educational programs and social projects. Much of its support has gone to the Salvadorean Communal Union (UCS), the largest noncommunist peasant organization in El Salvador.

In an interview, members of the UPD delegation said they object to about 60 of the articles in El Salvador's draft constitution, which currently comprises a total of 246 articles. They said that regarding land reform, one of the most objectionable articles would permit unlimited renting of land by absentee landowners. There are no provisions in the draft which recognize the constitutionality, or validity, of the current agrarian reform laws.

UPD leaders are also concerned that the constitution, as it is now drafted, would allow a continuation of strong control by Salvadorean military officers over what ought to be civilian government positions and activities. The UPD has called for a ''return to the barracks'' of members of the Army and security forces who are currently occupying jobs designed for civilians. The statement says that US military and economic aid ought to be conditioned on such a return to the barracks, strict monitoring of aid, a dissolution of the country's paramilitary forces, and the resolution of the allegations made against members of the Army and security forces who are suspected of having killed trade unionists, American land reform advisers, and others.

In a statement prepared for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, William C. Doherty Jr., AIFLD's executive director, said the AFL-CIO continues to believe that military aid to El Salvador should be suspended until there is progress in resolving the case of two AIFLD advisers who were murdered in El Salvador in 1981, as well as the case of four American churchwomen assassinated in 1980.

Five Salvadorean national guardsmen were arrested after the murders of the three nuns and a social worker, but their trial has been stalled because of motions from defense lawyers. In the case of the two land reform advisers, the two confessed murderers have not gone to trial, and an appeal is being considered by the Salvadorean Supreme Court.

In his statement, Mr. Doherty said AIFLD suspects the majority of violence against civilian noncombatants in El Salvador comes from the death squads of the far right. He cited as an example the killing of two farmer members of the UCS, who were murdered by unidentified armed men in an incident relating to land reform claims.

He said it seemed obvious that, as in the case of the AIFLD advisers, the Salvadorean Army is ''simply unwilling to punish its own.

''The US government must evenhandedly protest each and every such barbaric act and, if necessary, reduce military aid accordingly,'' said Doherty.

Doherty described Phase Three of the land reform program, often called the land-to-the-tiller phase, as ''alive, but not well.'' He said that it continues to be beset with serious problems, including evictions.

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