The leader of El Salvador's powerful Roman Catholic Church today warned that last weekend's elections may only have been a brief hiatus in the political violence tearing at this country.
As he spoke, the terror of hit-and-run assassinations, apparently by both the left and right, picked up its pace in the capital.
In his first homily since the polling on March 28, Acting Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas described the massive turnout as a "vote in favor of peace, democracy and justice," and called on leftist guerrillas to "accept the judgment of the people" and lay down their arms.
At the same time, in impassioned language clearly directed at right-wing parties trying to form a coalition to dominate the new government, he warned politicians not to "play with the will of the people" as if "the rivers of blood that have been spilled counted for nothing."
"Despite the parenthesis of election day, the moment we are living in is full of dense, dark clouds, of uncertainties, as when a storm draws near," Rivera y Damas told a crowd carrying palm fronds and filling the cavernous interior of the unfinished metropolitan cathedral on this first day of Holy Week.
At the Policlinica Hospital nearby, one of the newly elected right-wing delegates to the constituent assembly, David Joaquin Quinteros, 46, died after he was found near his car late last night with bullet wounds in his head and upper body. The identity of his killers was unknown, but his party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance, is the most conservative of the groups to be represented in the 60-seat assembly, and its members are frequent targets of leftist attacks.
Less than a mile away, on a garbage-strewn hillside between a shantytown and the Salvadoran Social Security Institute, another crowd gathered around the bodies of three young men--two brothers, aged 14 and 20, and their 22-year-old uncle--shot through the head with their thumbs bound behind their backs.
"It's beginning again," said a Red Cross worker on his way to look at the three corpses. He was talking of the kind of death-squad killing in which a point is made to leave "execution" victims in public places. Such murders seemed to have been in decline for the past few months leading up to the elections, but in the days since the vote, bodies have been appearing once again on the roadsides.
At the site of the killing, a young woman wept uncontrollably as she looked at the twisted body and shattered head of the man who fathered her child.
Other residents of the shantytown flocked around in mute curiosity. Many said they had heard the shots at about 8 p.m., just after the three men had finished dinner at the home of the brothers' mother and left for their own apartment nearby. The people of the neighborhood said that an Army patrol was in the area at the time, but no one had gone out to see what happened until this morning. None would hazard a guess as to who did the killing, or why, as they went back to the dark, bare interiors of their one-room homes.
"Why did the people vote? What was their intention?" Rivera y Damas asked at the cathedral. "It was an expression that they are tired of so much violence, and this weariness was joined with the expectation that maybe one could begin to find a solution in the sea of confusion and grief in which we live."
As he spoke, the archbishop repeatedly contrasted the posturing and gamesmanship of the politicians in the frenetic week since the elections with the grim substance of life in this country.
"The people simply do not want to see a wrangle for hegemony among political leaders, as if the rivers of blood that have been spilled counted for nothing, in which the division of the spoils prevails, in which the parties' or groups' own interests prevail and not the common good of the people," he said.
Rivera y Damas clearly questioned the coalition that has taken shape among the five right-wing parties that, together, won a majority of the votes but individually did not come close to the plurality held by the incumbent Christian Democrats.
The archbishop called on the constituent assembly, which will become the supreme political power in the land and is charged with writing a new constitution, to address "the vital problems that are at the base of the conflict: the mockery and frustration of the people, the unequal distribution of wealth, the war, the peace, the unpunished murders, the political prisoners and the disappeared persons, the refugees."
He said, "The people hoped for the slow process of reforms"--most of them instituted by the Christian Democrats and opposed in varying degree by the right--"to continue and deepen into a true political project."
But Rivera y Damas also was careful to say that the elections repudiated the insurgents' insistence on "armed struggle."
"The guerrillas have to leave the path of arms and destruction to seek other ways that allow them to earn credibility and trust so they can contribute positively to the reconstruction of the country," he said.