Captain flees Salvador when he's told, 'You're next'
"You're going to be next," said the note. Capt. Ricardo Alejandro Fiallos of El Salvador says that was one of the death threats he received before deciding to leave his country and its Army.
The heavy-set Fiallos has testified before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives on his escape from El Salvador. Contradicting US State Department opinion, he says that the highest-ranking Salvadoran officers direct the so-called death squads that are believed to have killed thousands of Salvadoran civilians in recent years.
State Department officials argue that the death squads, while sometimes associated with "elements" of the government's security forces, operate outside the control of the military high command. They also assert that the leading officers are trying to control abuses. The officials say that American military aid goes to help El Salvador's regular Army and not its security forces.
Captain Fiallos says that there is, indeed, a distinction between the government's security forces -- National Guard, National Police, and Treasury Police -- and its regular Army ranks, and that most of the assassinations are carried out by the security forces. But he contends that all these forces come under one command, and that the death squads do not act independently of the security forces or the high command.
This difference of views -- Fiallos vs. State Department -- goes to the heart of much of the controversy over El Salvador. If fiallos is correct, then the State Department argument that the US is backing "centrist" forces in El Salvador collapses.
Captain Fiallos was a supporter of the outspoken Col. Adolfo Arnoldo Majano, the reformist former member of the ruling junta who was ousted last year and later arrested by his military colleagues and sent into exile.
In an interview, Fiallos said a turning point came for him when he and other officers investigated the assassination of an Army friend who had worked with the National Police and knew, according to Fiallos, of some of the "crimes" of the police.
They concluded that the friend, Capt. Mario Molina Panameno, had been killed by the police.
Fiallos said that after he criticized the high command and security forces for a lack of professionalism and for committing atrocities, he began to receive anonymous death threats.
He decided to hide out at the military hospital where he worked along with another officer, but someone called him and said simply, "We know you're there."
The captain also received a typewritten note under his door that said: "The death of your friend was not enough for you. You're going to be next, you communist . . . ."
After unsuccessfully seeking political asylum through several embassies, Fiallos and the other officer left El Salvador last Dec. 12 by driving to Guatemala.
Fiallos cannot prove that the high command has planned the death-squad killings. But he said that security force members in the military hospital for treatment had spoken of being injured in the act of "eliminating" people. He also said it was a common assumption among military men that the death squads had high-level direction.
"Being a member of the army and familiar with how they work, you just knew that this sort of thing had to be done under orders," he said.
Fiallos professes to be a military man without strong political views. But he thinks that the US must take a more careful look at the opposition to the government, that the opposition commands "majority" support, and that many young people are "literally forced to join the guerrilla movement." His solution: a political settlement that would include the opposition.
But the State Department thinks that the opposition to the junta is dwindling , partly due to leftist, not rightist, violence and partly thanks to the US-supported Salvadoran land-reform program. It advocates elections rather than a negotiated settlement and warns that if Cuban support for leftist-led insurgencies in Central America does not halt, the US will put pressure directly on the "source" -- namely Cuba.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has indicated that the US may offer Cuba extensive trade and economic cooperation if Cuban support for the insurgencies dropped. Otherwise, the indications from the State Department are t hat Cuba may face strong US action, which could eventually go as far as a blockade.