Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Salvador Opens Door to New Leftist Lawmakers but Skeptics Say Test of Tolerance Awaits Resolution of Peace Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Salvador Opens Door to New Leftist Lawmakers but Skeptics Say Test of Tolerance Awaits Resolution of Peace Talks

Article excerpt

AS Salvadorans looked on in amazement last Wednesday, Roberto d'Aubuisson, a godfather of Central America's extreme right, welcomed to the National Assembly newly inaugurated lawmakers allied with leftist rebels.

Along with the unanimous support of his fellow deputies, Mr. D'Aubuisson voted these archenemies of the far right into two legislative leadership posts.

But as El Salvador's left-of-center parties take nine Assembly seats - their first since the 11-year-old civil war began - debate has grown over whether this step toward national reconciliation, along with recent advances in the ongoing peace talks, represent profound or cosmetic change.

Politicians, analysts, and combatants agree the country's future still hinges on the United Nations-monitored dialogue expected to resume in the middle of the month in Mexico City. There negotiators will try again to agree on the future of the Salvadoran Armed Forces and the mechanics of a cease-fire.

Evidence is increasing that political space previously closed to the left may be opening. Despite a pressure campaign from the hard-line right, which had called constitutional reform "treason," the outgoing National Assembly last week passed constitutional amendments similar to accords reached during talks between the rebels and the government.

Among other changes, the lawmakers agreed in principle to increase civilian control of the US-backed military and security forces and to create an independent human rights monitor. They also empowered a commission, based on Chilean and Venezuelan models, to investigate the worst political crimes committed in the country since 1980.

In a last-minute reversal owing to pressure from rebel leaders, UN mediators and United States officials, the Salvadoran legislators agreed to give a left-of-center coalition its first seat on the council that supervises elections.

This revision "shows that pressure can make (the rightist lawmakers) come back and change," says Hector Silva, a new deputy from the leftist Democratic Convergence coalition. "It's a message that what we represent in this Assembly is not just nine votes, but other real pressures from outside. …

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