Duarte's daughter released in El Salvador. But chances are slim for dialogue between rebels and government
In'es Guadelupe Duarte Dur'an, the daughter of El Salvador's President, was released yesterday after a month and a half of captivity in a rebel-held zone. Despite resolution of the kidnapping case, most analysts believe the task of fostering a broader dialogue between the government and the rebels that could solve the country's biggest problem -- its five-year-old civil war -- has become even more difficult.
The one glimmer of hope is the role that the Roman Catholic Church played in arranging the release. Many wonder if the church might also play a role in generating a broader dialogue.
``It will be tough,'' said one well-placed lawyer, echoing what seemed a common assessment.
``The possiblity of dialogue is closing,'' he said, seated in his living room while his son does his homework at the kitchen table. ``By kidnapping Duarte's daughter they hit him in his weak spot. Now, Duarte's instinct will be to seek revenge.''
Although Ms. Duarte's kidnapping by left-wing guerrillas has likely hurt the rebels' international image, the guerrillas did win almost all of their demands. These included the freeing of 22 political prisoners and the transfer of 96 injured guerrillas out of the country for medical treatment. (Eighteen of the political prisoners remained in the country and returned to the guerrilla fronts to rejoin the civil war against the government.)
As part of the deal, the rebels were to release a friend kidnapped with Ms. Duarte and 33 small-town mayors and other municipal officials abducted since last spring.
The rebels attempted to highlight alleged human rights violations of the Duarte government by originally demanding an accounting of missing rebels. As part of the deal, they were personally assured by Salvadorean Archbishop Rivera y Damas, who played a central in the negotiations, that the Catholic Church will monitor the treatment of captured rebels more carefully.
Perhaps the great unknown is President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte himself: what effect the kidnapping had on him personally and how it might affect his policies. The kidnapping of his eldest daughter was an ordeal for him and the entire family. His wife took it especially hard, say sources close to the family.
The government's negotiations were bitter at times and were almost broken off, until the personal mediation of Catholic Church officials broke the deadlock.
Even if Duarte wanted to restart peace talks with the rebels, which have been stalled since last November, he would face opposition from the Army, analysts say. The kidnapping ``caused major conflicts with the Army, and Duarte will have to pay the Army for the recovery of his daughter,'' the lawyer said, predicting that part of the Army's price will be a demand for no peace talks.
The Army has traditionally opposed negotiations with what it commonly calls ``subversives'' and ``terrorists.'' And now that it is doing better on the battlefield, it's even less eager to negotiate a settlement.
``The Army will probably hit hard to recuperate the prestige they lost during the kidnapping case,'' says the lawyer. ``The guerrillas will be expecting a response.''
Most observers see the United States, as well as the Salvadorean Army, as an obstacle to peace talks.
``It's clear that the US Embassy is the principal party to the Salvadorean conflict,'' said a professor from the Jesuit-run Central American University at a recent conference on peace. ``The Reagan administration has defined a political project whose fundamental objective is annihilating all signs of the insurgency. The conditions of misery, exploitation, and injustice which caused the conflict are only a secondary interest.''
The government itself doesn't hold out much hope for negotiations.
Duarte's top aide, Communications Minister Julio Rey Prendes, said the rebels have adopted ``a new strategy of trying to destroy the democratic process.''
``The enemy for them has changed. It's no longer the oligarchy, the Army,'' continued Mr. Rey. ``Now their enemy is the Christian Democratic Party, the President, our families. We are the enemy.''
Yet despite all the problems, the distrust, the opposition of the traditionally powerful forces, peace has a large constituency. But it is a silent majority, in a country where many of the normal channels for expression (unions, community groups, etc.) have been destroyed.
There is general agreement, however, that the prestige of the Catholic church, and especially of Archbishop Rivera y Damas, has grown recently.
``Rivera is capable of delivering,'' the academic said. ``When he mediates personally, things seem to prosper.'' He is trusted, the academic added, by both the Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front, an umbrella group of five Salvadorean rebel organizations, and the government.
But Duarte doesn't have the bases of support he had a year ago. The unions have gradually abandoned him, out of frustration with his constant concessions to the business sector.
And the President's own Christian Democratic Party is split. ``The kidnapping crisis revealed fairly serious divisions in the party and in the political committee,'' notes the lawyer.