Vice President Dan Quayle said Friday that he was delivering "a very emphatic, very strong" message that the United States expects El Salvador's armed forces to eliminate violations of human rights or face "consequences."
Speaking to reporters just before he entered the Salvadoran military headquarters for meetings with Defense Minister Carlos Vides Casanova and ranking field commanders, the vice president said:
"And when I emerge . . . there will be no doubt in their minds of our seriousness about our commitment to human rights and to justice, and that we expect them to work toward the elimination of human rights (violations)."
Although most Salvadoran officials and politicians were more anxious to hear Quayle's reaction to recent peace proposals by the nation's Marxist-led guerrillas, the vice president made it clear that he wanted the world to know of the Bush Administration's concern over human rights.
Early 1980s Violence
Compared to the bloody days of the early 1980s, when more than 800 people a month were dying in El Salvador's political violence, most of them at the hands of government-sanctioned death squads, the current figures provided by church and human rights groups, are relatively light: 96 in 1987 and 145 in 1988.
Quayle appeared eager to exert influence toward reversing the trend toward rising political violence.
He alluded to the December, 1983, visit here by then-Vice President Bush, who had threatened an end to the huge American military aid program and apparently forced a moderation of government-inspired human rights abuses.
"My message will be direct," Quayle said, "it will be emphatic. It will be much along the lines that Vice President George Bush conveyed to them in 1983."
Quayle, for whom the nine-hour visit here was the last stop on his first foreign trip as vice president, flew from Venezuela where he had represented the United States at the inauguration of President Carlos Andres Perez.
Debate About Peace
He arrived here in the midst of efforts by the government and various political parties to find a common response to a peace proposal made last week by the guerrillas who have been fighting the government for nearly nine years.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN as the group is known by its Spanish initials, offered to take part in a national election for president and accept the results of the voting if the election, now scheduled for March 19, were postponed to Sept. 17. As part of such an accord, the group said it would drop previous demands for a negotiated sharing of power and the integration of the 7,000 guerrilla fighters with the 58,000-member regular army.
In his 15-minute session with reporters at the residence of U.S. Ambassador William G. Walker, Quayle said the rebel proposal "is a step forward." But he added that any negotiations should be accompanied by an immediate cease-fire by the FMLN, something the rebels have not offered.
The vice president's remarks came a day after President Jose Napoleon Duarte backtracked from his initial rejection of the FMLN offer, saying that the proposal now gives "promises of hope." Duarte said any movement toward a national consensus had to be within a constitutional framework.
'A Proposal for War'
The Salvadoran president had originally called the plan "a proposal for war" and said any postponement of the election would be unconstitutional. The constitution calls for the first round of presidential balloting to take place no later than two months before a new president is supposed to take office--in this case by March 31.
Duarte's change of mind, under pressure from the Bush Administration and the U.S. Embassy here, signaled a subtle shift that allowed the president's followers to suggest a solution. For instance, Fidel Chavez Mena, the presidential candidate of Duarte's Christian Democratic Party, proposed his own peace plan Friday just before meeting with Quayle.
The key point of the Chavez Mena's plan calls for all presidential candidates to withdraw, thus mooting the election. Under this plan, when Duarte's term ends in June, the National Assembly, as permitted by the constitution, would appoint an interim president until new elections could be arranged.
This plan will be discussed Monday and Tuesday at an all-party conference, together with a plan advanced by the Nationalist Republican Alliance, an ultra-rightist party now leading the presidential polls. The rightist proposal is to invite FMLN leaders to discuss their offer before the National Assembly.
Quayle told reporters that the effort "to develop a national consensus within the framework of the constitution is the way to proceed."
But it was human rights that he returned to whenever possible.
"I will have a very direct discussion," he said of his meeting with the army leaders. "There will be specifics in my discussion. We're not just here to give a platitude for the support of human rights. . . . The conversation and the talks will be very direct and very candid."
When asked if he would threaten the military with an end of U.S. aid, the vice president answered:
"There are consequences of human rights violations in the future. We, the United States, are committed to the process and the system of democracy. Democracy means human rights and decency. . . ."