The Salvadoran colonel whose three-day-old mutiny has divided and disrupted the U.S.-backed Army here offered to give up his command and his rebellion today but continued his insistence that powerful Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia resign as well.
Gen. Garcia, who has received the backing of the U.S. government in the past, said in San Salvador that he had no such intention.
But as the standoff continued, Lt. Col. Sigifredo Ochoa, holed up in this mountain village where his soldiers and the peasants cheer his every appearance--and reassured by statements from other officers that they will not raise their guns against him--appears to be growing increasingly confident.
Four and a half hours of talks with a military negotiating team led by the National Guard commander, Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova, apparently did nothing to change Ochoa's mind.
With a grim-faced Vides Casanova standing beside him, Ochoa told a cheering crowd in the town square that if "Garcia does not accept our proposition, then we will stay in this department province of Cabanas until we are dead."
While Ochoa did not detail his "proposition," one of his officers who also attended the negotiations said the colonel's "first and unalterable demand" is still "for Garcia's resignation."
The most the high command had been willing to concede, according to two officers who attended the meeting, was the chance for Ochoa to take some other posting than the assignment to "diplomatic exile" in Uruguay that provoked his rebellion late Thursday.
In talks with reporters who were welcomed into the otherwise sealed-off province, Ochoa suggested three possible replacements for Garcia: Gen. Vides Casanova, Air Force chief Col. Juan Bustillo, and the commander of the 1st Brigade, Col. Adolfo Onicifero Blandon.
All are known to have been close to Garcia in the past and Ochoa reiterated that he is rebelling "not against the Defense Ministry, but against the minister."
Moreover, while the ranking Vides Casanova carries with him the brutal record of the Salvadoran National Guard, Bustillo and Blandon have not been linked to human rights abuses.
The heart of the mutiny is what one of Ochoa's subordinates called "the question of professionalism" in the armed forces. Two years after the civil war here began in earnest, the guerrillas are perceived to be slowly but steadily gaining ground. Despite $80 million in U.S. military aid last year alone, Garcia has failed to produce military victories.
Ochoa accuses Garcia of corruption and cronyism. Contrasting himself with the kinds of officers he said Garcia supports, Ochoa told reporters that here in the province under his command U.S. aid was used to buy boots and equipment for the troops rather than to build clubs for the officers.
Old school ties, grievances left over from past uprisings in the Salvadoran military and frequently conflicting personal loyalties play a role as well. Four of the five officers in the negotiating team that visited today are contemporaries of Ochoa who have known him at least since they were all lieutenants.
Now they are commanders of what are generally considered the best fighting units in the army, including the three U.S.-trained rapid-reaction battalions. Garcia and his allies portray Ochoa as the pawn of ultra-rightist Constituent Assembly President Roberto D'Aubuisson, another Ochoa classmate from the military academy. But while Ochoa's conservatism is well known, his second in command here, and a key figure in the mutiny, is the same liberal officer who arrested D'Aubuisson and more than 20 of his military and civilian supporters when then-major D'Aubuisson was plotting a coup in May 1980.
That officer, Maj. Luis Roberto Rodriquez Sosa, and at least one other officer backing Ochoa in this 1,200-man garrison were prominent members of the "military youth" movement that ousted the right-wing regime of general Carlos Humberto Romero in 1979.
The history of this country's government since then has been one of constant tension between these liberal younger officers and their more conservative superiors led by Garcia. Ochoa's generation has been caught in between and has generally attempted to stay neutral.
Although Garcia, under pressure from the U.S. Embassy, eventually adopted some of the social and economic reforms advocated by the young officers, he took steps to crush their movement early in 1980 and forced many of them into exile.
Ochoa said today he would like to see many of those officers come back to the country and believed they would if Garcia were out of the way. The mutinous colonel was sharply critical of another officer, Treasury Police chief Francisco Moran, as a man who attained his position strictly on the basis of his close friendship with Garcia.
Col. Moran, who is alleged by many human rights groups to be closely involved with death squads and whose agents are frequently used as political police, was described by Ochoa as an officer who had never even completed the basic command and general staff course work required of other officers before assuming important posts.
United Press International reported that Acting Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas said in his weekly homily: "The day is coming when President Reagan will certify that the country respects human rights. Nevertheless, the denunciations continue of illegal arrests, of discoveries of mutilated corpses and of the disappearances of people."