Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Death of Rightist May Complicate Salvador Peace Process

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Death of Rightist May Complicate Salvador Peace Process

Article excerpt

THE Feb. 20 passing of Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta, the charismatic leader of the Salvadoran right, leaves a gaping hole in the political landscape at a crucial moment in El Salvador's history, analysts say.

The Central American nation is only a month into a delicate transition to peace after a bitter 12-year civil war. Now the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party must grapple with the loss of its founder and most influential player.

"There will be a tussle for the heart and soul of the party among those who would like to replace D'Aubuisson. The problem is that many on the right believe that President Alfredo Cristiani, through the recent peace agreement with leftist guerillas, sold them down the river," says a European diplomat based in El Salvador. The concern is that those seeking D'Aubuisson's mantel will harden their positions to portray themselves as the true heirs to his political legacy, and thus endanger the peace process.

Supporters revered D'Aubuisson as the plain-spoken anticommunist who single-handedly saved El Salvador from falling into the hands of the left.

A former military intelligence officer, D'Aubuisson was tapped by a group of influential business executives to form the right-wing ARENA party in 1981. He was elected to the national Legislative Assembly in 1982 and the following year helped push through the current Salvadoran Constitution.

D'Aubuisson lost the 1984 presidential election to Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes, a Christian Democrat. But he orchestrated the party's 1988 victory whereby ARENA replaced the Christian Democrats as the majority party in the Legislative Assembly.

To opponents, D'Aubuisson was "a pathological killer," as former United States Ambassador Robert White once said. US officials and human rights organizations have alleged that D'Aubuisson masterminded the kidnappings and death squad executions of leftist leaders and supporters. The death toll hit more than 800 a month in the early 1980s. …

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