The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador yesterday denied published reports that the Central American country's land reform program has been suspended and said some acts of congressional committees go "too far" in trying to dictate how reforms should be carried out.
Ambassador Deane Hinton, in an unusually outspoken effort to defend the new Salvadoran government against recent congressional criticism, said the country's land reform program had received a "bum rap" in the American news media and asserted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reached a "wrong decision" in voting to reduce foreign aid.
Hinton, a career diplomat, spoke to the World Affairs Council of Washington in what was part of a concerted administration lobbying drive to restore funds cut in Congress from the El Salvador support program. With crucial votes coming on Capitol Hill soon, Hinton also has tried to turn around key committee members in private briefings in the last week.
Reports from El Salvador, some of which Hinton described as inaccurate, have said that the new right-wing government has suspended part of the land reform program and has begun evicting large numbers of peasants from land they have farmed.
Hinton conceded there have been evictions since the March election and acknowledged them to be a "serious problem."
But he denied that part of the 1980 land reforms had been suspended, the core of the dispute in Congress.
Reports from San Salvador, on which Congress has relied, pictured a suspension of the "land-to-the-tiller" program which was to turn over small plots to peasants and prohibit renting of land anywhere in the country.
Hinton said the new assembly had exempted from that law lands for growing cotton, sugar, livestock and food grains.
"That caused a big hullabaloo up here," Hinton said, referring to congressional reaction. "We lost a hundred million dollars in one day."
That was a reference to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voting to hold military aid to El Salvador to the 1982 level, in effect cutting out $100 million of what President Reagan had sought. The committee had reached "the wrong decision" in making that cut, Hinton said.
Such reactions provoke hostility in the Salvadoran press and create "a little of the ugly American" attitude among those who object to interference from the United States, he said.
Hinton also was critical of a committee resolution that threatens to cut all aid for El Salvador if the land reform program is altered to the detriment of peasant-class beneficiaries.
"The response of some Salvadorans was to say that if the Senate of the United States was going to run their country they did not understand" the meaning of their March elections which produced a Constituent Assembly controlled by right-wing parties.
Hinton's Washington appearances come at a time of diminishing congressional support for El Salvador and at a crucial point in the dispute over foreign aid legislation.
A foreign aid bill containing roughly what the Reagan administration wants for that country is scheduled to go to the House floor late this week amid predictions that funds for El Salvador will be cut back sharply or that the entire bill will be defeated.
In one of his meetings with congressmen last week, Hinton was told by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Clement F. Zablocki (D-Wis.) that no matter how good his arguments, the aid to El Salvador was in serious danger, according to sources who were present.
Hinton said that evidence of continuing land reform is apparent in the actions of new President Alvaro Magana who recently issued the first permanent titles to land since the program was started two years ago.