THE killings of six Jesuit priests and their domestic workers
nearly a year ago continue to cast long shadows over this country's
powerful armed forces.
In a pivotal setback for President Alfredo Cristiani and a switch
for United States policy, US senators agreed by a near 3-to-1 margin
Friday to withhold half of El Salvador's $85 million 1991 military
The eight were allegedly slain by the Salvadoran military. The US
Senate's move was a rebuke to the government for its inability so
far to find and convict the perpetrators.
The US Congress might still disperse the $42.5 million if the
Bush administration determines that Salvadoran rebels have either
launched a military offensive jeopardizing the survival of the
government or scuttled peace talks. The legislation, nearly
identical to a measure passed by the House, also calls for
terminating the entire military-aid budget if the Salvadoran
government withdraws from negotiations or fails to fully investigate
While US lawmakers are seeking signs of remorse over the killings
from the Salvadoran military, officers here say the sanctions are
Col. Mauricio Vargas, Army deputy chief of staff and one of the
few officials available for comment after the vote, criticized US
lawmakers for being fooled by "a rebel propaganda scheme" and for
"oversimplyfying the aid debate."
"The Congress is seeing the trees, but it's lost sight of the
woods," Colonel Vargas laments. "We can't lose the country, and let
it fall into the hands of a Marxist-Leninist project."
El Salvador's opposition politicians, meanwhile, heralded the
congressional decision, saying the measure could soften the
military's negotiating position.
"It sends a clear message to the people that need to hear it that
the goose that laid the golden egg has died," says Ruben Zamora,
head of the Popular Social Christian Movement. "It tells the armed
forces, `Hurry up, the game is over, negotiate now while you still
have US support."'
THE congressional vote raises the stakes in monthly United
Nations-mediated peace talks that began last May. Negotiations,
scheduled to resume in Mexico in early November, have stagnated
around the issue of military reform.
Guerrilla leaders are holding firm on a call to reduce the
56,000-man strong military and purge it of human rights violators.
Government forces say they will not cut any political deals before
rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front agree to a