Salvador rebels try to draw closer after deaths of top guerrilla leaders
El Salvador's leftist guerrillas are stepping up attacks against key economic and Army installations. Although they have suffered some setbacks, the rebels have made some crippling raids - apparently undeterred by the recent loss of the top leaders of the guerrilla group that considers itself the driving force behind the Salvadorean insurgency.
The deaths in April of legendary commander Salvador Cayetano Carpio of the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), and his chief lieutenant, Melinda Anaya Montes, severely shook the rebels - but they have determined they will not allow the loss to hinder their war against the Salvadorean government.
Some rebels say the net result of changed FPL leadership may even be positive. They suggest new FPL leadership may spur new unity among the five factions that make up the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the umbrella group of Salvadorean guerrillas.
There never have been strong, supportive relations among the five guerrilla groups. The first major joint effort of FMLN members - the so-called ''final offensive'' against government troops in January 1981 - was a failure. Unity then, as now, was strained. Even today the factions maintain separate military and political structures.
A key dispute within the FMLN has been whether to negotiate with the Salvadorean government. Rebel spokesman Ruben Zamora is scheduled to be in Washington this week and the subject of negotiations may come up. Zamora has said that the rebels are willing to negotiate. But in the past the issue of negotiations has split the guerrillas.
The FPL and Carpio had looked on talks as principally a tactic within the war effort. But the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) - the largest group after the FPL - and the other three rebel organizations view negotiation as part of a political solution to the conflict.
The FPL had favored the ''prolonged popular war.'' Members would fight a long war of attrition instead of seeking quick victory or alliances to impel a political victory. In contrast, ERP advocated an ''insurrectional'' strategy or general strikes leading up to a final offensive and a mass insurrection.
The ERP plan was basically a blueprint of Nicaragua's revolt in 1979. But the January 1981 attempt to carry it out in a final offensive did not work in El Salvador. There was no general uprising and the movement's urban organizations were exposed, forcing many Salvadorean government opponents to go to the mountains with the guerrilla forces.
However, shortly before Carpio and Anaya Montes died, the FPL appears to have made a major tactical shift. At a January meeting, the FPL high command decided it would make greater efforts to work with the other Salvadorean guerrilla organizations. Previously, it had functioned more or less as an opposition group within the FMLN, refusing to compromise on many issues.
This tactical shift reportedly triggered the chain of events that led to the murder of Anaya Montes and Carpio's suicide.
The circumstances, as described by political exiles in Nicaragua, are these: Miss Anaya Montes, second in command of the group, was murdered April 6 in Managua. FPL commander Carpio committed suicide shortly after discovering that Anaya Montes had been killed by one of Carpio's own proteges. Some rebels say the killer is Rogelio Bazzaglio, the No. 3 man in Carpio's command structure.
Anaya Montes had been a key advocate of closer relations with the other groups. Carpio went along with this change, but Bazzaglio reportedly was strongly opposed.
FPL insiders say Carpio's position as leader was threatened by the changes. But he apparently never suspected a top lieutenant would commit murder in opposition to the changes. An FPL member calls Carpio's suicide ''his ultimate repudiation of the crime (the Anaya Montes murder).''
Some say that had Carpio lived, he would have reaped some political benefits from the changes and from the loss of Anaya Montes. But this might have incurred high costs as well, namely suspicion and mistrust in the rebel movement, since many would never have believed that Carpio had nothing to do with the murder.
Carpio founded the FPL in 1970. He had resigned as secretary-general of the Communist Party of El Salvador, disenchanted about the prospects that union organizing and electoral politics could ever end the 40-year chain of military dictators. The group successfully attracted many peasant unions and radical Christian groups into its ranks.
A personality cult grew up around Carpio, which he is said to have cultivated. Nicknamed the Ho Chi Minh of Central America, he grew a Ho-style beard. FPL members thought Carpio should be the FMLN commander in chief. Believing that the FPL was the leader of the Salvadorean revolutionary movement, they also thought the other rebel groups should swing around to their views.
But the FPL may in a sense have swung a little toward the others. Today FMLN guerrillas say they plan to focus their efforts on building rebel forces in the heart of El Salvador. They advocate negotiations with the Salvadorean government , although they are not expecting them to take place.
''A dialogue with the government could lead to negotiations,'' said an editor of Guazapa, a newspaper associated with the National Resistance (RN), another FMLN group. But elections ''offer no solution,'' he said. Asked what the parties could talk about in negotiations, the editor said, ''conditions for real democracy, ending of censorship, a cleanup in the military, and justice for the crimes of the death squads. . . . There is a consensus in El Salvador for talks.''
The Roman Catholic Church, moderate labor unions, and part of the Christian Democratic Party are already in agreement, he said.
''Right now there is no way to participate in the elections, the people don't have channels of communication. They cannot meet or mobilize, it is absurd and impossible with the repression.''
The rebels dismiss the government's amnesty plan as well. An ERP member said, ''Amnesty was decreed on other occasions and the results are revealing - few were favored, few took advantage of it, and no lives were secure.'' He said that some of those who were to have been protected by the amnesty have been found dead, their bodies mutilated.
The previous aricle was published June 2.