THE Salvadoran peace process seems finally to have built up a head of steam. Negotiated breakthroughs achieved last month could mark at least the beginning of the end to the nation's 11-year civil war. On April 27, after three weeks of intense negotiations in Mexico City, representatives of the Cristiani government and the leftist FMLN guerrillas agreed on major amendments to El Salvador's constitution. The proposed changes would put the nation's military and police forces under civilian control, enhance the independence of the judiciary, and strengthen the oversight commission that ensures the fairness of elections.
Under the constitution, amendments must be approved by two successive national assemblies. This can prolong the ratification process, as each assembly sits for three years. Fortunately, the agreement reached late last month coincided with a change of assemblies, after the legislative elections held in March (which saw unprecedented vote-getting inroads by the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of opposition parties). The outgoing assembly hastily approved the package of amendments before adjourning Apr i
l 30. The new assembly that convened May 1 is likely to approve the amendments within a few weeks.
When the latest round of the United Nations sponsored peace talks began in early April, it was hoped that the antagonists would agree to a cease-fire in the war that has taken more than 75,000 lives. The parties couldn't come to terms on a cease-fire, however. Still, they successfully pressed ahead on the constitutional issues.
President Alfredo Cristiani deserves praise for pushing the amendments package through the assembly in the face of some far-right opposition. The US's staunch support of Cristiani, despite continued concern about human-rights abuses, may have been a sounder policy than skeptics supposed.
The parties need to maintain their momentum and press forward to a cease-fire. It's also important that the government, with nudging from Washington, start to implement the new constitutional arrangements anticipated by the amendments.