Military violence in tormented El Salvador will end only when the Army is larger, better educated and better paid, the president of the ruling junta said today.
Jose Napoleon Duarte said in an interview that previous human rights abuses by the military here must be seen in the local context. "The Army here was not prepared for any kind of emergency," he said. "Soldiers received about $10 per month only a few years ago. What kind of people can you get for that?
"The cuartels [local military posts] became schools because the only people who could go into the Army were illiterate. Then a man of this capacity was given a rifle and sent out to an area, and told, 'From now on, you are the authority in this area.' " He said centuries elapsed in which no military personnel were ever charged with crimes.
Now, Duarte continued, "We have changed that." In the government's continuing effort to convince Congress that it is clamping down on abuses, visiting U.S. congressmen were given summaries of disciplinary action taken against Army soldiers and members of the National Guard, the National Police and the Treasury Police in the last two years.
Copies shown to The Washington Post yesterday listed 218 National Police members, 19 Treasury Police and 35 Army soldiers, all of whom were expelled and turned over to the civil courts. There were 61 murder charges, 20 rapes, 20 robberies and 82 assault charges, plus assorted lesser crimes. A separate list of 59 National Guardsmen charged in various crimes was made public earlier.
Duarte said urban violence has declined sharply from the levels of two years ago when "you couldn't walk in the streets. The city was empty." He pledged, "That trend will continue until we finish up."
However, 15 buses were stopped, evacuated and firebombed in San Salvador this morning by masked terrorists. Guerrilla radio broadcasts have announced that any buses in use after March 1 will be destroyed, and bus company owners are pressing Duarte for protection.
The guerrillas also cut the Pan American Highway at San Felipe for four hours, and heavy fighting continued on the slopes of Cerro Guazapa. At least 10 soldiers were reported dead and 50 more wounded.
Duarte reiterated his view that the guerrillas have given up seeking a military victory and are now seeking only to destroy the economy and stop the elections scheduled March 28. "What they want is unconditional surrender," he said.