Acting Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas said today that "the violent propaganda" of the parties involved in next Sunday's election has raised doubts about whether the vote can be "peaceful and free."
In his weekly homily at San Salvador's battered cathedral, Rivera y Damas condemned both the leftist guerrillas and the government's soldiers for abuses. He urged the rebels, who oppose the election for a constituent assembly, "not to threaten" or attack voters.
As an example of the insecurity and uncertainty affecting everyone in the country, Rivera y Damas cited the killing of four Dutch journalists and the "abuse" of a Brazilian news team fired on by government troops.
"I think this act merits an in-depth investigation," said Rivera y Damas of the journalists' killing even as the ambassador of the Netherlands was reported to be visiting the scene where the four men were killed near the government garrison at El Paraiso. Reporters were not allowed to visit the site while the ambassador was there.
Speaking of the killings, Rivera y Damas said journalists "have the right to be permitted to reach their sources of information and have the right to be respected in the carrying out of their mission even in the risky and narrow context of bellicose actions."
Rivera y Damas suggested that such actions as the killing of the journalists, coming on the eve of the elections, have "caused international pressures to grow stronger daily."
"Everything seems to point to the fact that we are the target of many countries and the guinea pig of many others," the archbishop said.
Rivera y Damas used his carefully balanced homily to call on all sides of the conflict "to look for the paths of reason and dialogue before continuing with this fratricidal war."
At the same time he asked "the groups who are ideologically opposed to the elections . . . not to threaten or try to do anything against the people who by taking the option of their party or for moral conviction and the desire for peace or also for fear want to go to vote. It is a questions of conscience."
The senior clergyman in this intensely Catholic country condemned both the guerrillas and the government's soldiers for the "executions, the indiscriminate attacks as well as the repression through which old men and women or defenseless children and others unconnected with the conflict suffer and perish."
But this theologian, accustomed to dealing in subtly molded phrases, expressed little confidence in the elections as the key to the peaceful political solution that the church and some civilian politicians have sought to the civil war here.
There are doubts and fears, said Rivera y Damas, "because a history of continued fraud has left just suspicions" of the fairness of the election and because of "the violent propaganda of the parties themselves, which has taken the form of insults, accusations and threats, as if reason had given way to machismo, imposition and braggadocio."
The archbishop's homily differed in tone and nuance from a statement signed by him and El Salvador's four other bishops in January that urged Salvadorans to participate in the election, while also asking the government to "create adequate conditions . . . to make possible the participation of all Salvadorans in the electoral contest."
Rivera y Damas' remarks today appeared full of doubts about the electoral process, some of them expressed openly, some only hinted.
"The elections are presented now as a fact in such a way that high exponents of our politics have insisted that they will not be held up for any reason. Many, we hope most, will go to vote out of conviction, others for convenience and even for fear," said Rivera y Damas.
The bishop called on the government's armed forces and the Central Elections Council "to employ all the adequate mechanisms so the people don't see themselves subject to reprisals or 'vendettas,' deceived once again."
Underlining the perils and excesses of the current election campaign, two political rallies in the war-torn department of Chalatenango were held this morning before small, unenthusiastic crowds.
Jose Napoleon Duarte, president of the governing junta and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, was expected to show up for the rally at El Paraiso, his home town, but he never did. Meanwhile, retired major Roberto D'Aubuisson, leader of the right-wing National Republican Alliance whom Duarte has publicly accused of murder, did not appear at a campaign rally in the town of Chalatenango after saying yesterday that a Venezuelan assassination team had been sent after him by the Christian Democrats.
With such violent friction and so little democratic tradition here, there are widespread doubts about the effectiveness of whatever government emerges from the election next Sunday.
"The problem that presents itself today," as Rivera y Damas put it, "is not, then, the elections themselves but what will prevail after the elections. Will there really be a constituent assembly with sufficent power? Will we really return to being a country ruled by law?" He concluded with the words, "Only time will tell."
In what appeared to be a reference to D'Aubuisson's promises to "pacify" the country at whatever cost, Rivera y Damas said, "One can never think of pacification as an exclusively military victory, much less that pacification lies in the total or indiscriminate extermination of one or the other contending force.