In the last few years, the United States has given El Salvador enough military aid to allow it to go over to the offensive, but only enough economic aid to allow it to survive -- if its misery and pain can be called survival. That dispensation was unavoidable while the country was struggling to beat back a guerrilla surge, but now that some success has been achieved on the military side, the United States must turn greater attention to the economy. This the new aid bill does not do. It keeps the familiar 21/2:1 ratio of economic to military aid, raising the dollar amount of the former a bit to $325 million. It isn't enough.
El Salvador entered its civil war five years ago a desperately poor country. The war has drawn resources out of the economy, and the economy has become a prime target of the insurgents and may be becoming more of one, now that the guerrillas are shying from direct engagements with the armed forces. It is loathesome that the guerrillas attack mills, power stations, bridges and the like and inflict suffering on the very people they claim to represent. The bishops criticize them, and the government now insists that, before peace talks resume, the guerrillas enter private talks to discuss, among other "humanizing" measures, the halting of sabotage. Meanwhile, it continues.
An immense special difficulty is created by the requirement, one imposed by politics and justice alike, for the government to conduct a social revolution at the same time it prosecutes the military struggle. To win the people in El Salvador's feudal society, there had to be some transfer of property and opportunity to the poor -- an odd and uncomfortable process for a conservative American administration to oversee but one that the Reagan team has more or less accepted. Land reform has been undercut by the lack of adequate funds to pay landlords who lost their property and to set up the new economic units. Current American law, moreover, forbids the use of aid dollars to pay compensation for expropriated property.
The military and political campaigns against the guerrillas' war against the people must be sustained. But beyond that, more money needs to be provided in the economic aid account, land reform must be promoted vigorously and Congress needs to amend the law to allow financial support of that reform. The Duarte government has fully deserved its recent accolades, but they may have conveyed the false view that the country has licked its problems. It has licked, in part, only some of them. It would be unforgivably shortsighted and self-defeating for the United States to help El Salvador defend itself on the military front without enabling it to make a full-scale assault on its poverty too.