Disorder's cost in El Salvador
AFTER six weeks of negotiations to secure the return of his kidnapped daughter, El Salvador's President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte can finally turn to other pursuits. The main one should be to move vigorously to resume peace talks with the guerrillas, originally held a year ago. The ball is in the President's court. But in offering to hold new meetings he should not accede to power-sharing conditions laid down by the guerrillas.
Preconceptions about possible talks have altered over the past two months. The foremost change is in the viewing of prospects for success. Both sides apparently bargained in good faith to obtain the release of persons kidnapped by the guerrillas or captured by the Salvadorean Army. Prisoners were released by both sides, largely as expected.
If they could strike a deal on this particular issue, could the government and the guerrillas not use the increased trust as an aid in negotiating a agreement on something more basic, an accommodation in the draining war?
The guerrillas would move into any such talks in a somewhat strengthened position. Their ability to kidnap In'es Guadalupe Duarte Dur'an, and to mount several recent guerrilla assaults, makes clear that their forces are not on the verge of collapse, as had been thought.
President Duarte, on the other hand, is slightly weakened by the kidnaping affair: He expended political capital to get the military to go along with the release of guerrillas in order to obtain the return of his daughter and former local government leaders.
There are some issues on which the government, in bargaining, should accede to rebel demands. One is land reform, begun but far from complete. Another is a complete end to death squad activity, diminished but not ended. A third is shrinking the still-strong power of the landowners, a major ultraconservative force in the nation, and of the Army.
For their part the guerrillas ought in return to forswear violence and contribute not to rending the nation but to unifying and strengthening it.
None should be naive about the difficulty in reaching agreement. And if accommodation is attained, the actions of some of the far-left rebels should be watched closely, to keep them from seizing power. Nothing would be gained from replacing the past authoritarianism of the right with dictatorship of the left.