Salvadoran conflict ends, but U.S. burden of economic assistance remains

January 03, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Peace in El Salvador will extract a price from the American taxpayer.

Administration and congressional officials said yesterday that while the U.N.-mediated New Year's accord will allow the United States to cut military aid to the Central American nation, some or much of that money may be absorbed by other costs of the pact.

"War was expensive, but peace is also going to be expensive," said Bernard W. Aronson, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

But he stressed that the burden would be shared.

Since the pact is guaranteed by the United Nations Security Council, the cost of making sure it works is "the responsibility of the entire international community," he said. Other Latin American countries, Japan and the European allies already have been approached by the United Nations, he said.

Noting a "very tight mood" toward foreign assistance on Capitol Hill, Mr. Aronson said it was too early to project how much U.S. aid would be sought.

He also said the accord would stimulate foreign investment in what is already the best-performing economy in Central America and pave the way for ending the region's last civil conflict, in Guatemala.

The accord, intended to end a decade-long civil war that has claimed an estimated 75,000 lives, calls for deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, creation of a 6,000-member police force under civilian control, distribution of land to peasants in rebel-held areas, job training and other social services.

The United Nations yesterday began organizing a force of about 200 peacekeepers, plus police monitors, Reuters reported. The government of President Alfredo Cristiani has, in addition, pledged a $1 billion reconstruction plan.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar has already sought support for implementing the pact from representatives of Venezuela, Colombia, Spain, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Community, Mr. Aronson said.

El Salvador ranks sixth among U.S. aid recipients. It was allocated $308 million last year, but some of the $84 million in military aid was held up to prod the government to negotiate with rebels and end rights abuses blamed on the military.

Congress is continuing aid at last year's levels through March 30 and has already set aside some money to fund the peace accords. The administration is seeking $293 million for the current fiscal year.

The United States has given about $4 billion in economic, food and military aid to El Salvador since 1980, when the Reagan administration became alarmed at the prospect of Communist insurgencies destabilizing all of Central America.

The 1980s saw frequent clashes between the Republican administration and liberal Democrats highly critical of continued support for the Salvadoran military.

Congressional officials predicted resistance to increasing overall aid levels now and said there would be a strong push by Democrats to slash military aid to help pay reconstruction costs. "They don't need anything remotely approaching" the $84 million, a Senate staffer said.

Mr. Aronson agreed that some military aid could be shifted as the guerrilla threat goes away and the size of the army is reduced.

He said that the peace accords have "broad and deep support" in the Salvadoran government and the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, but that there was a danger that extremists on both sides would try to subvert the pact.

Mr. Aronson, the State Department's top Latin America official, assisted in the final stages of negotiations along with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas R. Pickering, a former envoy to El Salvador.

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