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Duarte faces rising criticism over economy, civil war, kidnapping

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El Salvador's President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte faces rapidly growing criticism from the right wing, the military, and the press, United States congressional and Salvadorean sources say. President Duarte is under fire for the nation's deep economic crisis and guerrilla insurgency. His handling of his daughter's kidnapping last month heightened the criticism.

The local press criticized the exchange of 34 rebel prisoners for Duarte's daughter and her companion. The press said the death of the Salvadorean soldiers, who died in the effort to capture the rebel hostages, was in vain. Duarte acted as a father instead of a president, stated the press.

Such criticism especially damages Duarte's image in the eyes of Salvadorean officers. The Army's commitment to Duarte is ``maintained by a thin line of officers in key positions,'' says a US Senate aide with contacts in the region.

Many officers in the military, particularly midranking ones, strongly support the extreme right-wing party, ARENA, and its former leader, Maj. Roberto d'Aubuisson, the aide says.

Photographs in Salvador's press of Duarte and his daughter meeting with President Reagan last week in the US sent a message to Salvador's right -- the US backs Duarte.

But disenchantment with Duarte is growing among average Salvadoreans.

When Duarte campaigned for the presidency early last year, he pledged two specific things: to bring economic prosperity to the country and to make a serious attempt to lessen the civil war between the US-backed government and left-wing rebels. Duarte has failed to fulfill those pledges.

More than a year after aborted peace talks between the rebels and government, the civil war seems far from a solution. The economic situation has deteriorated steadily over the past year, in spite of US aid (almost $2 billion since 1980). Salvadoreans have experienced a 25 to 40 percent reduction in purchasing power since 1980. The economy is suffering from two things:

The effects of the war. Guerrilla sabotage has been aimed at economic targets. Investor confidence is shaken by the continued conflict.

Alleged large-scale corruption in the public sector. US and Salvadorean analysts say the private sector is failing to invest in productive enterprises in the country and is sending massive sums of money out of El Salvador.


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