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Bush Warms Up To Salvadoran Right BY JAMES RIDGEWAY Washington, D.C. IN 1983 Ronald Reagan sent his Vice President, George Bush, to El Salvador to save U.S. policy in Central America from what then appeared to be certain disaster. Bush bravely pledged an end to right-wing death squads and embraced Jose Napolean Duarte and his right-center Christian Democrats as the vehicle to replace the Marxist revolution with a peaceable, American-style democratic pluralism. Under the new American policy there would be elections in El Salvador just like in the United States. The corrupt and brutal army would be cleansed. Counterinsurgency would bring reform. All would be well. In time, Duarte along with Cory Aquino became symbols of the Reagan Doctrine, the Administration’s much-ballyhooed policy of rolling back communism in the Third World through democratic reform. Five years later, El Salvador has survived four elections without a coup. But the army is more corrupt than ever. Murder by death squads is up by more than 160 percent over the past year, and by most accounts El Salvador resembles a Central American Lebanon. Onto this scene of torture and corruption President Bush has ushered his own Vice President, Dan Quayle, the designated hitter for the New Right on Capitol Hill and the first major American statesman to pay his respects to the current savior of the democratic experiment in El Salvador, the right-wing ARENA Party. This is the party of Roberto D’Aubisson, who is widely identified with drug dealing and death squads and openly linked to the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. It is the party whose excesses Bush was sent to curb in 1983. With Duarte near death from cancer and his Christian Democrats in disarray, an increasingly strong ARENA is judged a near certain victor in the spring presidential elections. Times change, and a party once seen as an international pariah is in the process of being warmly embraced, not only by the right in both U.S. parties, but also by moderate politicians on Capitol Hill, ranging from New York Congressman Stephen James Ridgeway’s column, published by the Village Voice, is a regular feature of the Observer. Research for this article was provided by Bill Gifford. Solarz to House Speaker Jim Wright. Meanwhile, the foreign policy debate is in the midst of a furious rewrite in which the highly praised initiatives of center-right democratic pluralism are thrown aside in order to embrace a newly emergent, bornagain right wing that has cast off drugs, abandoned death squads. and committed itself to human rights. In place of outmoded left wing agricultural reform, it extolls the virtues of the free market. D’Aubisson himself has slipped into the background and been replaced by a fresh-faced Alfredo farmer who was educated at Georgetown University. Few in Washington doubt D’Aubisson’s continued control of ARENA and many undoubtedly wish for a negotiated settlement along the lines of that proposed by the FMLN last week. But after two years of Nicaragua, they have little stomach for yet another round of what they see as eccentric Latin politics, and all are well content to accept Cristiani as front man. FTER THE MURDER of Arch bishop Romero and the killing of four American nuns, Congress attached stiff human rights conditions to aid in the early 1980s. Confronted with growing revolt at home and a deteriorating war in the field, the Administration established the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America what came to be known as the Kissinger Commission to study the crisis and come up with a policy. The commission found El Salvador to be vital to American interests and that a victory by the guerrillas would be unacceptable. In order to win, the commission urged funding a rapid military buildup and a practical plan to ease economic misery. It also proposed elections, not negotiations, as a solution. At the same time, the Kissinger Commission sought to make better human rights a condition for further military aid, and came down hard against death squads. The Kissinger Commission report became the cornerstone of U.S. policy towards El Salvador. With Duarte’s election, Congress removed the most serious aid restrictions and, increasingly preoccupied with intensifying conflict in Iv caragua, gave little heed to events in El Salvador over the next four years. El Salvador has come to depend on American aid for its existence. Since 1979 the U. S. has pumped $3.3 billion into the country, and currently provides 55 percent of the annual budget. While much of the aid is theoretically targeted for reform and economic development, three-quarters of it is war-related. Still, the economy continues to decline. Inflation is at 18 percent, economic growth less than two percent. The economy remains dependent on the sale of base commodities such as sugar and coffee, whose prices fluctuate wildly on the international market. To make matters worse, the prices of base commodities have been declining on the world market while the price of basic grains, an essential foodstuff, has skyrocketed. Land reform was meant to ameliorate the economic excesses of the oligarchy, but it has only been implemented in the most marginal sort of way and accompanied by none of the financial and technical support required for small producers to make a go for it. Unemployment exceeds 50 percent. Ten percent of the people live in refugee camps. Infant mortality is the highest in Central America, and medical care is grossly insufficient. Since 1980, the U. S. has sent $6,700 per capita to El Salvador, six times the per capita income of the country, as Barbara Boxer, the California Congresswoman who wants to redirect the focus of American aid, recently pointed out. And yet at the end of 1986, per capita income was 38 percent lower than it had been at the start of the war. Since the October 1986 earthquake, Salvadoran society has grown ever more chaotic. Along with reforming the economy and exporting elections, the U. S. had hoped to implant other staples of Western-style democracy. Among them was a judicial system independent of the military, and to that end the U. S. pumped millions of dollars into a new, reformed court system. Today it is a joke. To cite but the most recent example of justice, Salvador style: Jorge Alberto Serrano Panametio, a judge presiding over a case involving a kidnapping ring run by military officers and close friends of D’Aubisson, was murdered May 11, 1988, in front of his own house. While George Bush’s 1983 visit never really ended the murder of civilians by death squads or the military, the recorded statistics are on the increase: Murders by death squads are up 66 percent, from 24 to 64, over the last year. Government forces killed 6 FEBRUARY 24, 1989