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A Mere Excuse



THE DECISION LAST WEEK by the House Foreign Affairs Committee granting the Reagan Administration's request for $60 million in necessary aid to El Salvador is yet another step in the wrong direction for U.S. policy in Central America. Symbolically the assistance constitutes a show of support for the recently elected Constituted Assembly headed by Roberto d'Aubuisson, the extreme right-wing leader who former U.S. ambassador Robert White calls a "pathological killer." Concretely, the guns and funds mean the prolongation of a bloody civil war that continues to ravage El Salvador.

Although several key posts in the Salvadoran government named last month are filled by moderate Christian Democrats, the real power lies with d'Abuisson. As president of an assembly controlled by the extreme right, he has the power to veto any legislation. An ardent opponent of land reform and other measures to help the poor, d'Aubuisson hardly appears likely to back progressive proposals the government may put forth

During his campaign for the Assembly, d'Aubuisson vowed to kill "every last Communist in this country." Since the election in March, he has softened his tone, hoping to garner support from Washington With a $60 million U.S. arms package under his arm, d'Aubuisson will probably try to make good on his promise Congress. In backing the Administration's request, he given legitimacy to a man who must be considered guilty until proven innocent

Administration officials and members of Congress have argued that the March elections in El Salvador were the start of a true democratic process. Military aid, they assert, affirms the U.S. support for this process. But that contention seems questionable at best. More significantly, it appears a mere excuse for those who all along have been anxious to step up military aid. The leftist guerillas had been willing to run for the Assembly provided unconditional negotiations among all sides took place beforehand. But Washington insisted on elections first, talks later--driving the rebels from the polls for fear of retribution

More fundamentally, Washington's policy of showing approval via military aid cannot be condoned. A new shipment of guns to El Salvador will do nothing to bring about conciliation between the leftist guerillas and the new government. Instead, at only serves to increase the tension. In an area as traumatized as El Salvador, it's hard to see how the injection of military aid will do the cause of peace any good. Even the left, which would have proven an improvement but not a panacea for the troubled nation, probably would not have deserved such military support.

The United States should concentrate all its efforts on pressuring d'Aubuisson to moderate his policies and bring about constructive negotiations with the left. If the Administration is so keen on giving money to El Salvador, let it be for specific economic projects.

It is possible that d'Aubuisson will prove to be more moderate than expected. Maybe some type of conciliation will take place between the guerillas and the new government. But probably, the right, with Washington's blessings, will continue on its extreme course. Then, after more bloodshed the left will come to power and the U.S. will lose whatever influence it had in El Salvador and might have preserved, had conciliation taken place.

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