The former American ambassador to El Salvador testified yesterday that the embassy got "little to none support from Washington" in dealing with human rights abuses until "we went public on it."
The emissary, Ignacio E. Lorano Jr., served in the Central American country until June 1, during a period in which two Jesuit priests were murdered, the foreign minister was kidnaped and later assassinated, security forces were accused of torturing and killing peasants, a Jesuit university was repeatedly bombed.
The hearings before a House International Relations subcommittee took place as tension mounted in El Salvador with the expiration of a 30-day period for Jesuit priests to leave the country or face "systematic execution" by a right wing terrorist group.
One witness, Jose Inocencio Alas, a 42-year-old Salvadorean priest, told the subcommittee chaired by Rep. Donald Fraser (D-Minn.) that he was kidnapped by terrorists in 1970, forced to drink a full quart of pure alcohol mixed with drugs, stripped and abandoned on a mountain after speaking out for land reform. He said he was found, brought to a hospital and recovered after nine days of unconsciousness.
Alas said he came to the United States this year as a refugee after frequent death threats, hostile articles in the press, a bomb explosion in his house, an arson attack on the parish house and two arrests by security forces.
Alas told the subcommittee that in addition to the two murders of priests, five others have been tortured, eight others expelled, and parish assistants, catechists and sacristans have been assassinated. He said many priests and peasants are afraid to sleep in their own houses.
Lozano, who arrived at the El Salvador post last Aug. 30, said that trouble worsened with the introduction of an agrarian reform plan by former president Arturo Armando Molina. That plan was strongly backed by the Catholic Church, but Molina lost the presidency to Carlos Humberto Romero in a February election marred by fraud allegations.
Lozano said that it "soon became apparent that an accommodation had been reached between ANEP and FARO (private business and agricultural groups) and that if he (Romero) withheld support for Molina's agrarian reform program they would in turn provide massive financial support for his election campaign."
Lozano said that the embassy had operated in this period "pretty much on our own" since it had difficulty "getting Washington to focus" on the situation.
The former emissary said he was not implying that the Carter administration was insincere in its human rights campaign.
"But given the fact that it's small and the U.S. has no vital interest (there), it's hard to get people to pay attention."
Fraser shot back that it was "not the first case of a small place losing its standing with our government on human rights."
The Carter administration has taken a number of quiet steps in the last few weeks to persuade the Romero government to crack down on abuses. A senior State Department official visited there last week, and the United States indicated it would not support an international loan to the country for a power project.