Challenge from the right polarizes Salvador. Duarte secure, but may find it hard to rule
Despite last Thursday's business stoppage - the most serious challenge from the right in his 2-year presidency - Jos'e Napole'on Duarte is in no danger of being toppled, analysts agree. But the danger, some say, is that increased polarization between the Duarte government and the rightist business groups and political parties challenging him will make governing increasingly difficult.
``You can see the polarization taking place,'' says a Western diplomat. Though the 1988 National Assembly elections are a year off, he says, politics seem to be moving into the highly charged pre-election mode that focuses attention away from daily governing.
While the ruling Christian Democratic Party might come out ahead of the right politically by unfurling its traditional populist banners, some Christian Democratic analysts worry that the escalation of infighting between the government and business could distract from fighting what they see as their main enemy - the leftist rebels who have been battling the government for the last seven years.
``The country is very disunited,'' says a top Christian Democrat. ``We need to unite the forces that at least agree that they don't want a Marxist model.'' But this is very difficult at the moment, he adds.
Tensions between the Christian Democrats and the rightist business sector have a long history. The US Embassy has tried to stop the traditional enemies from fighting and to get them to work against the leftist insurgency.
The strategy seemed to have some success until President Duarte levied new taxes to help pay for the war. The taxes target the wealthy, whom the Christian Democrats feel aren't paying their fair share.
The right reacted with a Constitutional challenge to the taxes, a call not to pay them, a strike by rightist deputies in the Assembly, and the recent business strike.
The business organizations that organized the stoppage called it a ``popular referendum'' on the government and claimed it showed widespread rejection.
Yet while the popularity of the Duarte government has undoubtedly declined as a result of the war and economic deterioration, many stayed off the streets during the stoppage not out of political conviction but because they were concerned about violence.
Although the rightist business groups have threatened to hold more stoppages, they seem to be carefully weighing their next step. Stoppages are costly, especially for the small businesses and street vendors for whom the day's meager sales are often the evening meal.
Political analysts say the right has moved beyond mere calls for Duarte to scrap the taxes to scarcely veiled calls for him to step down as President in favor of his designated successor, Abraham Rodr'iguez. The right considers Mr. Rodr'iguez, a Christian Democratic businessman, more acceptable because he has urged the government to be more conciliatory to the private sector.
The right claims that the new taxes are merely the latest in a string of government abuses. It is still angered by the 1980 agrarian reform and the nationalization of the banks and foreign commerce. It also fears that the Christian Democrats will use their control of the Central Elections Council to entrench themselves in power like Mexico's ruling party, which has ruled since 1928.
But Duarte has said that he will never resign, calling the rightists ``terrorists.''
``What is at stake is power,'' Duarte told a sparse rally of market women last Thursday. ``The extreme right is used to maintaining power through a 50-year-old dictatorship and now they do not want to yield what they have lost.''
While the confrontation with the right might signal major problems for the country's long-term stability, most analysts here agree that Duarte can ride out pressures from the right secure in his support from El Salvador's powerful Army and the United States.