The latest tussle over aid for El Salvador apparently has ended with Congress standing firm on keeping funds for that country sharply reduced.
"The Senate Foreign Relations Committee doesn't think that it overreacted," Deane R. Hinton, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and a staunch proponent of aiding that country, said yesterday. "I say that it did."
At issue are millions of dollars Congress has refused to authorize for the embattled Central American country, which is broke and heavily dependent on American aid to continue its resistance to insurgents.
The Senate committee has cut back the administration's request of $166 million for El Salvador by about $100 million, an event that brought Hinton racing to Washington, where he has made empassioned pleas to politicians and the press for a restoration of the money.
But by week's end there were no signs that Congress was set to reconsider and approve the Reagan administration's request. Neither Chamber was in a hurry to bring foreign aid bills containing Salvadoran assistance to the floor.
Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he will not bring his bill to the floor before mid-July. And "If the situation is not more promising, we will put it over until next year," he said. The Senate committee will not move its bill to the floor until late July at the earliest.
In part, members are reluctant to vote for foreign aid after they slashed domestic programs recently under the budget resolutions passed by both houses. But their hesitation is also due to the Salvadoran government's recent altering of a controversial land-distribution program, which reform that Congress has insisted is key to continued U.S. aid.
There is dispute over exactly what the Salvadoran constituent assembly did in changing the third phase of that program, which was designed to provide ownership of small farming plots for poor farmers, many of whom had been renting the land for years.
Some news accounts from San Salvador have said that phase has been "suspended" by the right-wing assembly, an interim legislature pending a new constitution and elections. Both former president Jose Napolean Duarte and the new provisional president, Alvaro Magana, have used that word to describe what happened, according to The New York Times.
Hinton spent more than two weeks with the press and congressional committees denying that any part of the land-reform program has been suspended and, in exceptionally sharp language, accusing the Senate committee of overreacting to what he contended were "slanted" reports in The Times.
Hinton contended yesterday that the constituent assembly had merely removed the program's prohibition on renting four types of crop land, and he pictured this as justified to keep that country's economy rolling.
"You can't have an agricultural economy without renting land," he insisted to reporters.
However, under questioning he conceded that land reform is in jeopardy because of opposition to it by big landowners with friends in the new government, and he acknowledged that the assembly's action "creates a new element of uncertainty" about land reform. It "increases" the jeopardy, he said.
But he insisted that "land reform has not been suspended," and he dismissed Duarte's statement that it had been by saying that the former president was "positioning himself for domestic politics."
Hinton also acknowledged that evictions of peasants since the right-wing parties took control in March had increased, but said the army was moving to put them back on their land.
He called it a "serious problem." One peasant group in El Salvador has claimed that more than 9,000 families have been evicted in two months.
The ambassador was sharply critical of Congress for using the land-reform issue as justification for cutting back aid to a country facing an insurgency.
"They Salvadoran loyalists are fighting and dying, and we're sitting up here quibbling about money for a land-reform program no one had ever cared about before," he said.