The crisis that threatens to provoke the fall of El Salvador's U.S.-backed coalition government continued today amid persistent reports that a second member of the governing junta, Christian Democrat Jose Antonio Morales Ehrlich, would be dropped from the ruling group.
The reports are still unconfirmed, and the leadership is in such disarray that there is no way to predict the final outcome of negotiations now under way to reshape the government. Although the United States is pressing strongly for a moderate resolution of the crisis, conservative forces here, both inside and outside the government, have been marshaling their forces for a coup, saying privately they are pleased with the way things are going.
Some officials here say there is virtually no command structure left in the military and that the resulting chaos has resulted in widespread abuse -- including killing and torture -- by some members of the armed forces.
There is some evidence that members of the military may have been involved in the deaths of four American missionary women here last week or may have helped conceal the crime, and a high-level U.S. diplomatic mission is here now to investigate those allegations.
Many moderates here fear that unless the left-wing opposition can be accommodated in the power structure the chances of a peaceful solution to El Salvador's vast array of economic, social and political problems are slim.
The government has repeatedly offered to talk with left-wing political leaders. Such a move would tend to isolate El Salvador's substantial guerrilla movement and could result in a negotiated peace.
The left, meanwhile, has declined to bargain, and since the slayings late last month of five of its most prominent leaders -- for which it flatly blames the government despite the junta's denials -- there is virtually no hope for negotiations unless some major concession by the government emerges in the next few days.
Yesterday, one of the two military representatives on what had been a five-member junta, the relatively liberal Col. Adolfo Arnoldo Majano, 42, was forced out by a vote of the armed forces.
A high-level military source said today that the junta eventually could be reduced to four or three men -- or even a single president -- or some of its members could be replaced. The immediate future of the nation hangs suspended as the talks go on.
Before the current crisis the junta was composed of two colonels, two Christian Democrats and an independent. Napoleon Duarte, 55, one of the Christian Democrats in the junta and the most prominent leader of his party, has talked repeatedly about unifying and strengthening the junta's control over the armed forces.
If the end result is not democratic control, he said -- meaning control by his party or by people of whom it approves -- the Christian Democrats will withdraw completely from the government.