El Salvador is moving forward with its program of agrarian reform: it is regarded as one of the most effective steps to remove the guerrilla threat. Notable progress has been made since the democratic elections of March 1982. The Salvadoran government and, in particular, its army have implemented the program vigorously, particularly in the past six months. These facts should not be overlooked in the current debate over continuing military and economic aid to that country--real progress is being made with land reform.
There was a period of uncertainty around the elections of last March. But then, last fall, the Salvadoran government mounted a campaign-- under new leadership--to accelerate the program in rural areas, and many more small farmers have filed applications for title to the land that they have cultivated. Since October 1982, more than 20,000 applications for titles have been filed, bringing the cumulative total to almost 50,000. Land titles are being issued and former owners compensated in an orderly fashion by the government of El Salvador. The U.S. position is that compensation is a critical part of the program.
The Salvadoran army itself has taken the lead in reinstating farm families that have been evicted illegally by former owners. Some 3,700 families have been reinstated since the elections of March 1982.
These achievements reflect well on the determination and capacity of the elected government of El Salvador. Land reform is difficult to carry out under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances have been less than ideal, as we all know.
The reform program already has benefited more than 500,000 landless and poor campesinos, counting their family members. Beneficiaries are former renters, farm laborers or sharecroppers. They now own their own land, usually as family farmers on small farms, and most of them perceive themselves as being better off. Agricultural production in the reform sector compares well with pre-reform production and with the non-reform sector in average yields. The reform has worked, in part, because farmers usually received land that they had been farming for a long time. (The U.S. Agency for International Development also supplied credit, seed and other support to help the reform succeed.) These facts have been confirmed in a recent report by independent consultants.
The success of the land reform program is a threat to the guerrillas; it undercuts their appeal in rural areas. President Alvaro Magana's government recognizes that this popular reform has a vital part to play in the political stabilization of his troubled country. The government is going to continue the program.
The Salvadoran Congress recently voted to extend the deadline for campesinos to file for title to land until the end of 1983. Magana also announced that elections will be held in December. This continuation of democracy and reform is supported by the Reagan administration.
The Salvadoran government's success and perseverance in its implementation of agrarian reform gives reality to a hope aroused by the Salvadoran revolution of October 1979. This achievement reflects well on the capacity of the government of El Salvador to carry out democratic economic and social reforms.
This successful implementation of agrarian reform, under very trying conditions, should be weighed when judging President Reagan's request for continued assistance to El Salvador.