Two days after five of its leaders were abducted, strangled and shot to death by a right-wing paramilitary death squad, the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Front presented its new executive directors at a clandestine press conference today in this strife-torn capital of El Salvador.
The meeting followed a night of bombings throughout the city and several early-morning shootouts that underlined a growing feeling here that the moderates in the Christian Democratic Party as well as the U.S. Embassy are increasingly helpless in slowing the process of political polarization.
Although the Christian Democrats who serve in the ruling civilian-military junta, have denied government complicity in the Thursday killings, party leaders today warned that the brutal assassinations were part of a right-wing plot "to create a major state of terror and demoralization that will permit them to advance their plans for a coup d'etat."
At the same time, U.S. Ambassador Robert White met with Jesuit leaders in the offices of a Catholic secondary school where the murdered leftists were abducted.
After the meeting, White called the killings an "unspeakable crime" and told the Jesuits, many of whom are closely tied to the left, that "they do not stand alone." He lamented the damage done to the cause of peace, and cautioned that "such provocative acts only strengthen the growing vicious circle of violence alternating between the far right and far left."
The Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador, which regularly criticizes the U.S.-backed junta for alleged human rights violations, again charged that government security forces are supporting the terrorists.
"The same elements [responsible for the kidnapings and killings], coordinated or supported by the public security bodies, are assassinating people with impunity," a church statement said.
The rapid regrouping of the leftist leadership suggests that the killings were less damaging to its structure and its revolutionary plans than to any chance of peace for this country that has already lost about 9,000 people to political violence this year.
"There has been an escalation," said Edurado Calles, 40, an agricultural engineer who replaced the murdered Enrique Alvarez Cordova as a member of the front's directorate. "The situation has matured and we hope within a short time to liberate the people."
Last night a powerful bomb was set off in front of the cathedral, where the bodies of the five leaders and a young associate killed with them were lying in state.
Coffins went flying, a steeple sent a pillar of flames into the night sky, the facade of the structure was ravaged, and at least five persons were injured.
A key liberal within the government junta Col. Adolfo A. Majano, has left the country at least temporarily with no detailed explanation. Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats warned today that the rightists are attempting to convince the armed forces -- on which this government depends for its survival -- that dratic military measures are the only solution to El Salvador's problems.
The revolutionary front called for a massive funeral for its slain leaders, to be held here Wednesday. Dignitaries, church officials and representatives, from sympathetic governments are to be invited.
Memories of the panic and massacre that took place at the funeral of archbishop Oscar Romero last spring, when more than 30 people died, are still fresh here.
Saul Villalta, 32, the new representative of the Unified Popular Action Front on the revolutionary directorate, said such bloodshed is simply "a risk of the revolution."
Other members of the organization's new directorate who appeared today were Carlos Gomez, 29 of the Popular Liberation Movement, Juan Jose Martelli of the Social Christian Party, Manuel Quintanilla, 33, of the National Democratic Union and Marco A. Portillo, 24 and Francisco Rebollo, 23 of the Popular Revolutionary Bloc. Leoncio Pichinte of the Popular Leagues of Feb. 28, the only remaining member of the original direcotorate, did not appear.
The size of the crowd on Wednesday may give some indication of the popular strength of the left here.
Long before armed guerrillas were able to present any serious threat to the government, the so-called popular organizations, working among exploited peasants and laborers, had garnered massive support manifested in repeated demonstrations in the streets of the capital. Some of the crowds exceeded 100,000.
It was also these groups that frequently occupied government buildings and foreign embassies.
Such actions often ended in violence and many of the groups' supporters died in the process. For the last eight months their public activity has largely subsided.
The government claims this is because the mass organizations no longer have mass support. The organizations, pulled together since last winter in the Revolutionary Democratic Front, claim they simply changed their tactics. They said they were preparing for war, working in concert with the guerrillas, whose disparate elements have been brought together as the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front.
Marti, who once fought beside Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua, was the communist leader of an ill-fated peasant uprising in 1932 that was crushed by general Maximiliano Hernandez at a cost of 30,000 lives. The death squad that claimed responsibility for killing the revolutionary front leaders this week took its name from the general.