The Reagan administration's policy in El Salvador has failed. El Salvador's March elections have given more power to those attributed with sanctioning the murder of civilians and members of the clergy. By focusing attention on political squabbles, political "coalitions" and the balance of power between the new provisional President, Alvaro Alfredo Magana, and the Constituent Assembly, headed by Robert D'Aubuisson, we have lost sight of the real effect of the election: that the very forces we sought to control during the Duarte government have now received far more influence and authority than anyone ever dreamed. Congress must oppose continued military support for such a regime.
The best argument for the administration's election strategy was that Duarte and the Christian Democrats would gain the legitimacy and power to control repression by the military, abolish the death squads, and open the political arena to dialogue with opposition groups. That strategy has now been proven bankrupt. The Christian Democrats are in an even weaker position: Robert D'Aubuisson is president of the new Constituent Assembly; the right wing parties that support him have excluded the Christian Democrats from all positions in the Assembly leadership; and their control of this rule- making body will surely limit the power of President Magana. The right-wing rhetoric may change--they are unlikely to be foolish enough to publicly advocate violence or reject reforms --but they will not take action to actually push reforms or to tame the repression and terror of the military or death squads like the White Warrior Union, organized by D'Aubuisson himself. And the administration's distorted East-West vision of the conflict assures them they can always play the "Communist card" to get continued aid. As one D'Aubuisson supporter with close links to the military put it: "The United States has never cut off aid anywhere for very long or even entirely. Reagan will never let the Communists win here. It's just a complete bluff."
Many top-ranking military officers, however, are worried that it's not a bluff. They insisted that the provisional president have a moderate image and that Christian Democrats be given cabinet positions. We should not, however, conclude that these officers are anxious to end repression or pursue reform, but only that they desire a veneer to beguile Congress into believing that democracy has prevailed. "Help us help you." U.S. envoy Gen. Vernon Walters was reported to have told the Army. One thing is certain: President Magana, who was "recommended" by the Army, will have even less power than Duarte had in ending the military-backed repression that is the major obstacle to ending armed insurgency and creating the environment for negotiations and a political settlement.
Congress must not be lulled into inaction by administration claims that military aid should continue until the new government has been given a chance. The U.S. cannot condition its aid based upon what we hope will happen: we should cut off military aid until the provisional government backs its pledges with acts. This was the intention of the administration's certification that the Salvadoran government had made meaningful progress toward stemming human rights abuses or in implementing promised reforms. But the administration made a charade if the certification.
Congress must now adopt a stiffer measure: the immediate cutoff of all military aid to El Salvador, including the military credits and the "emergency" aid funds that Preident Reagan has used to avoid congressional scrutiny and approval. Such an action would send a clear message to the Salvadoran military as well as the right- wing parties: until they take actions that show they merit our military aid, we will not continue to finance their repression and terror simply because they wrap themselves in the banner of "anti-communism." The administration will be put on notice that they must convince the Salvadoran military to tame their own officers as wekk as the death squads, and to move toward negotiations that will open up the political process so that opposition groups will have a choice other than armed insurgency.
Will we lose our influence if we cut off all military aid? No. The "carrot" of military aid may enable the administration to create a more moderate facade, but it has failed completely in bringing about the necessary conditions for a stable, political settlement: an end to the repression by the military and para-military forces.
Immediately cutting off all military aid will enhance our influence in El Salvador. The government and military will know that we are serious when we ask for a change. They can come to us again and request aid be reinstated. But our position will be far stronger; they must change their ways to prove they deserve our aid. It is time for Congress to use the "stick": only if it cuts military aid will those who hold the power in El Salvador take seriously the need to create conditions for a peaceful political settlement.