Progress in El Salvador


Constitutional revisions adopted by El Salvador's National Assembly provide a basis for peace after 11 years of destructive civil war. But it is not peace. What remains is for a cease-fire to be worked out among the army, the civilian government of

President Alfredo Cristiani and the guerrillas of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The posterity of El Salvador will not lightly forgive whoever might obstruct that cease-fire from signature and implementation.

The reforms enacted were at the heart of an agreement that was hammered out between the government and the insurrectionists during intense negotiations in Mexico City. The key reforms are to separate the army from the police and give the elective president control over the armed forces. In one respect, the National Assembly departed from the Mexico City agreement, and that was to perpetuate a greater political domination of an electoral commission than was agreed.

The importance of that rather technical-sounding provision in creating trust in an electoral process cannot be denied. Nor can the legitimate suspicions of the FMLN. But the extent of the agreement and its enactment are more impressive than the area of exception. A United Nations role is designed to impose objectivity and trust. It includes a commission to investigate atrocities of the civil war in which 75,000 Salvadorans have died.

In Nicaragua, the left-wing Sandinista government allowed itself to be overthrown at the polls by President Violeta Chamorro, though continued Sandinista control of the army and trade ZTC unions undermines her authority. Her regime is hardly successful, but the war has stopped. El Salvador presents a mirror image, with a right-wing government and left-wing guerrillas. If its war can be ended and a regime created that Salvadorans find legitimate, a good deal of peace will have been achieved in Central America. That is a precondition for progress in curing the social and economic ills of the region.

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