To the surprise of no one, Ronald Reagan has certified human rights progress on the part of the government of El Salvador. Given his mind-set about leftist insurgencies, he would nominate it for the Nobel Peace Prize.
His policy toward the murderous junta is as rigid as it is uncoordinated.
Immediately following the award of Reagan's gold star, government troops stormed into a San Salvador slum and murdered 19 people. It was a continuation of their program of winning hearts and minds through massacre.
Millions of Americans watched on their weekend television news shows as bullet-ridden bodies were hauled onto trucks and victims' wives and children, eyes wide with horror, stared into the cameras. We had just been told that the president proposes to subsidize this policy of extermination with an immediate additional $55 million in aid.
The administration view of the atrocity, which came so embarrassingly on the heels of official U.S. approval, was carried to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Thomas O. Enders, assistant secretary for inter-American affairs, a suave survivor of another adventure in supporting unpopular government--the Vietnam war. El Salvador in no way resembles that, he said emphatically.
Enders looks the ultimate diplomat, a man of enormous height and distinction. There apparently is nothing he will not say in support of Foggy Bottom fantasy.
Quizzed about other alleged government atrocities, he glided into the absurd. The blame for the mass killings in Morazan must be borne by the leftists. It was not possible to prove or disprove that the government troops had killed hundreds of peasants, he said, but, "the guerrilla forces did nothing to remove them from the path of battle." It says a great deal about our side in El Salvador that we expect its enemies to rescue people from it.
Reagan, in his certification, said the trend in official murder is "downwards." The figures do not support him. According to Reuben Zamora, an exiled leftist leader, quoting the legal aid office of the Catholic diocese of El Salvador, the total of non-combatant deaths went from 8,062 in 1980 to 12,501 in 1981. A drop in the last three months is explained by the fact that thuggery has moved out of the cities and into the countryside, where reporting is more difficult.
The United States wants to give the Salvadorans $55 million to replace helicopters lost in a rebel raid and $30 million for unspecified purposes, while we press for the political solution through elections in March. Guerrilla leaders reject elections, perhaps because all are on a government proscribed list and would be shot on sight as they approached their local polling place. They favor negotiations, which the United States says are out of the question.
One person in the State Department apparatus apparently did not get the word about the "political" solution. He was none other than our ambassador in El Salvador, Deane Hinton, who gave an interview in which he let the cat out of the bag.
There may be no choice he said, in an unguarded moment, but to go for a military victory.
The idea that we can buy one merely by pouring in more weapons is not compelling. The one way it could be done would be through an increase in U.S. advisers. Getting Congress to vote for more direct military intervention in an election year is not a realistic possibility.
Hinton, when asked if he saw a way out of the war, said, "I don't know."
Enders shook his gray-blond head when confronted with this outbreak of honesty in the ranks.
"It is not my view," he said succinctly. "We are proposing institution-building."
Enders did his most notable "institution-building" as ambassador to Cambodia where, from the embassy, he directed U.S. bombing runs.
Amid the contradictions and confusions, Enders had one card to play--an endorsement of elections by the Bishops Conference of El Salvador. The lone member who does not support the government, Archbishop Rivera y Damas, was among the signatories. That was a coup for the State Department, which has encountered fierce resistance to its course from U.S. bishops. It has had much better luck with the Vatican, which takes a more sympathetic view of the civil war as an East-West showdown in the hemisphere.
Enders did not mention the crude bargain being offered to sweeten the preposterous certification--a promise that the six soldiers accused of the 1980 murder of four U.S. churchwomen would, finally, be brought to trial.
The families of the women, who have been given the runaround at the State Department, are not mollified. They want to send observers. They don't want to know just who pulled the trigger; they want to know who gave the orders.
And Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) and Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.) are introducing a resolution to declare the Reagan certification null and void. It would have no binding effect, but many members of Congress blanch at going on the record in favor of financing official terror in a year during which they have to go before the voters.