EL SALVADOR'S CRISTIANI: STILL STRUGGLING WITH CREDIBILITY

Created: 1/16/1990

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DIRECTORATE OF INTELLIGENCE

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El Salvador's Crisliani: Still Struggling With Credibility

Summary

The9 guerrilla offensive has intensified persistent questions about how much control President Alfredo Crisliani wields in the government and the ruling pariy. His low profile during the offensive and apparent inability to restrainrightwing violence have eroded his early success in establishing his leadership credentials andoderate image for Ms pariy. '

To restore confidence in his leadership, Crisliani needsake firm action, such as overcoming Judicial Impediments to swift prosecution of the persons response bit for the killing of six Jesuit priests in November. His recent public statement that military personnel committed the murderstep in this direction, and it hasa positive internationalilitary backlash could follow, however, which would probably Impel him toward his characteristic conciliatory approach.om towardas privately shielding some implicated personnel fromplacaie elements in the military and in the ruling pariy, bul with the cost of further undermining Cristiani's authority in El Salvador, and. perhaps more Importantly, in the United States.

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A New-Style ARENA Leader

A relative newcomer to politics when he became president of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) panylfredo Cristiani.nitially proved to be the answer to the party's longstanding image problem. Since its creationRENA haseputationroup of ultraconservauve extremists withto rightwing death squads and an authoritarian oligarchy. The disrepute of ARENA founder and President-for-Life Roberto D'Aubumon. who has been accused of kidnappings and assassinations,articular burden for the party. After D'Aubuisson's failed bid for the presidencyariety of sources reported thai ARENA leaders decided to clean up the party's image by namingespected member of an important coffee-growing family and theof the powerful coffee and cotton growers* associations, as its he3d.

Cristiani presented several advantages as pany leader. He was untainted by charges ofor connections to death squads and rightwing extremists.

The choice of Cristianieader brought results. ARENA increased its popularity while benefiting from growing disenchantment with the failed economic policies and corruption of theDemocratic governmeni ol Jose Napoleon Duane. In congressional and local electionsRENA won control of the National Assembly and over two-thirds of the country's municipalities.risuani earned ARENA's presidential nomination and won the presidency withercent of the popular vote.

Tackling the Presidency

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Although Cristiani was generally expected to be more moderate and polished than many ARENA leaders, his initial popuianiy as President surprised even ihe most skeptical observers at home and abroad. An opinion poll taken in San Salvador three months into his term showed him1 percent favorable rating. We believe this high level of approval reflected the successstyle.

Another plus for Crisuani was his measured response to serious problems. For example, after the assassination in9 of his Minister of the Presidency, the President stressed that thewould not be provoked into an extralegal response and would rely on the judicial sysiem to deal with the enme. Similarly, he avoided being baited by the upsurge in guerrilla violence in

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Tha Crisliani Cabinet

For the most pan. President Crisliani's Cabinet reflects his pragmatic, conciliatory style. While the ministers are predominantly ARENA members, ihey brent the traditional ARENA mold in that they are generally technocrats more commuted to good tovernment than to ideology. The economic team of Economy Minister Anu.ro Zablah. Finance Minuter Rafael Atvcrado. Planning Minister Mima Lievano. and Central Bank president Roberto O'ellana perhaps best typifies the moderate, professional image Cristioni is striving to establish. With the exception of Lttrano. they art all US trained: ihey are generally conservative, haveexperience in economics and finance, and owe liitte allegianceRENA. They share Cristiani's visionree market economy but, for the most pari, understand and support his concerns about social welfare.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Pacas and Justice Minister Oscar Santamaria represent lhe more politically seasoned wing of Cristiani's Cabinet. Both have been extensively involved in government and ARENA affairs. Neither has much experience in his portfolio, however, and both hare been criticized for substandard performance during November'tlose friend of Criitiant. served as Economy Minister24 and was an adulter to4 presidential campaign. Pacas is currently attempting toalance in foreign policy between friendly relations wiih the United States andindependence. Santamaria Served two termsational deputy in. Despite heading the investigation of ihe Jesuit murders, he has not taken an assertive role in histo date. Heey participant in tie negotiations with ihe FMLN In Costa Rica in October.

Defense Minister Gen. Rafael llumberto Larios, head of one of ihe most importon! ministries,ompromise choice necessitated by ARENA infighting. Larios. who ispected to be replaced early this year, generally has not iparked controversy in the military but Is suspect in ARENA circles because of family lies to the opposition Christian Dtmocraiic Party and alleged corrupt activities. Because of his temporary status (he has been nicknamed 'the disposable minister" tn some quarters) Larios has not been an activist. Generally, he has publicly supported Cristiani's policy of negotiating wiih the FMLN and toning down Army violence In response to guerrilla provocations.

Cristioni alsokitchen cabinet" of informal advisers, many of whom arefriends who share his progressive views. Included in this group,

are Foreign Minister Pacas-who also is close to D'Aubuisson-National As-

sembly President R'tcardo Alearanga. and San Salvador City Counctlmen Juan Jose Domenech. Ricardo Valdivieso, and Saul Suster.

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Crisuani also initially benefited from the appeal of his moderate, pragmaticenda. It was designed toore democratic image lor his governmeni and consolidate popular support. Its key elements included:

Pursuing negotiations with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLNI. Criaiani made ending the insurgentop priority of his government. Although November'* offensivenegotiations, the President has coniinucd io call for dialogue with ihe FMLN.

Strengthening communication with the military. The President hasood workingwith key military leaders, particularly the Chief of the Joint Stalf, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, and has stressed the critical role of the military in institutionalizing democracy.

Building ties to the opposition. Upon assuming office. Cristiani immediately began to courtparties and interest groups in an effort to win their support-or at least minimize iheir

Balancing competing economic demands. Cristiani is pressingree market economic program ihai necessitates some sacrifice from the entrenched interest groups that traditionally have been one of ARENA'S strongest constituencies. Moreover, he has been careful to assure worker and peavant groups that their key concerns, such as land reform, will not be ignored.

Cristiani's selectionoderate Cabinet also helped his standing. Many of us memhen-particularly on the economic team-are businessmen and technocrats who. like ihe President, tend toonsensual approach to politics and are more committed to competent and effectivethan to ideology or personal gain. Other members are longtime ARENA members with consider-able experience in government and party affairs.

ut Still Fighting an Uphill Battle

Despue Cristiani's good start, he continues to be plagued by the suspicion, both at homethat ARENA hardliners led by D'Aubuisson are the true power behind the throne.has been the ultimate authority in the party since its founding, and his aspirations to powerknown. Cristiani reportedly consults with D'Aubuisson on party issues and allows the partyto have input in decisions of defense and security matters. Many observersatecomer to politicselatively weak political base, can ever wrest controlfrom the chansmatic pany

Some features of Cristiani's leadership behavior-which are admirable in his personality andbackfired in public:

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His calm, rational apprpactTtoward difficult decisions has sometimes kept his government and the public in suspense.^Cristiani listens to all sides and allows himself ample time to consider all options.

He has enlisted senior pany leaders to resolve political disagreements on objective grounds and to increase consensus decisionmaking, thus casing ARENA awav from US autocratic traditions. Hnw-

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Dealing Wilh ARENA Hat^nnt^J

The greatest challenge to Presidentin the wake of theto be dispelling the notion that the hardline /action is solely inof ARENA and by extension ihe presidency. Among the hardliners, the most influentialRoberto D'Aubuisson. who founded ARENAersonal vehicle forThe party foundereal in the National Assembly, where he contendsmajority and has the potential toormidable foe. D'Aubuiwm so furthe appearance of direct involvement in

has made an effort to slay behind the scenes. At the same time, however mtmv of his supporters were given second- and third-echelon posts in various ministries. Nearly nil of theupreme Court justices are D'Aubuisson supporters. Moreover, he succeeded in ectune six of his followers named toman National Executive Council iCOhNAl lust November and thereby has assured his continued influence in the party.

Other ARENA members could also thwart Cristiani's efforts at reform or threaten his authority. These include Vice President and Interior Minister Francisco Merino unj National Assembly Vice President Sigifredo Ochoa. Both are strong supporters and lonvume members of the conservative faction of ARENA. Merino reportedly was D'Aubuisson's chotc vice-presidential slot and was accepted by Cristiani to appease ARENA hardliners.

Merino recently has distanced himself somewhat from D'Aunuisson. pvsswiy in an attempt to ouild his own following within ARENA. Nevertheless, he remains more conservative in his views lhan the President and may push, those views. Ochoa is <tn ul-traconservative whost outspoken, extremist positions (such as8 call for publicto protest corruption in the Dttarte government) have embarrassed ARENA in the past. He wields some power in Ike Assembly, however, and could prove to be an irritant to Cristiani.

Cristiani turned his first potential confrontation with hardliners-ihe selectionefenseto his advantage through his conciliatory approach.'Ihe party old guard, lea byD'Aubuisson, wanted Lristiant to appoint Air Force Gen. Rafael Busttllo. an ardent ami-Communist who had aggressively pursued the insurgent war

The moderates preferred Lot. Kene tmtlio ce. meicf of ihe Joint General Staff and the acknowledged leader of the most influential military academy graduating class. Realiung that Ponce's appointment would spawn imerservice rivalry and anger ARENA conservatives. Cristiani compromised by choosing Gen. Rafael Humbenoow-profile officertrong professional reputation and the respeci of his peers.

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Since overcoming the conservatives' objections to his Cabinet selections, the President has relied on his consensual style to manage tke D'Aubuisson camp.

He has used COENAorum to discuss major party policy issues and to forgeby committee, thereby limning some of UAubuisson's power. The Presidentoint of consulting D'Aubuisson on important party issues, however, and in the past has allowed him considerable influence on decisions involving defense and security matters.

Pragmatically, he has rccoyniMd that O'Aubuisson's popubnu and solidupport -nil usefully complemeni his own siyle and villi tenuous constituency In Irving noi to cooipcte head-onalone lo discard him friijiini ha- mjcntd ilinq ahujLjr ihe reMircence ofmilitary faction and probably has disappointed other* who expect *hou* ot machismo of their leaders.

Rocked by the Offensive

The November offensive was lhe firsi crisis ol Cristiani's presidency. Although some observers initially praised Crisliani (or his measured response to lhe olfenslve (he ordered the miliary to move cautiously against lhe guerrillas to avoid harmingumber of events negated the political value ot thai approach. These included the assassination of lhe Jesuits, reportsfrovune crack down on rehejous workers and suspected leftists, severe press censorship, and the drafting by ARENA members ot" the Assembly of an antiterrorist law that would severely restrict individual rights.

The President's low visibility duripR the most intense fighting of lhe offensive was another blow to his credibility. He" gave only two press conferences during the first two weeks of the attack and many international observers speculated that his absence from view meant thai he was no lonccr in charge. Others asserted that, because the security services had taken primary lesponsibilitv forthe counteroffensive. ihey were also running the government.

ihe President was indeed the key decisionmaker durine. the

offensive Dui add that he did not manage the crisis as well as he could have. In particular, the adept handline of the media that he exhibited in the first months of his presidency was sorely lacking.

was also re-President's di-

Ineffecuve management by Cristiani's staff, particularly at the Sponsible lor the government's poor showing,

rector o! national communications. Mauricio iandoval. was absent from the country during thedays of lhe offensive and did. blue unon his return to ensure widespread dissemination ofMinister Manuel Pacas's failure to communi-

cate with El Salvador's embassies abroad crippled the efforts of Salvadoran diplomats to make ancase to foreign governments. Justice Minister Oscar Santamaria's slow response in initial

nitiating the

investigauon of the Jesuit murders forced Chilian! himself to lake ihe lead on lheetter lo the Pope from Salvadoran Attorney General Mauricio Colorado calling for the removal of all foreign priests from El Salvador-read by the international presshinly veiled government threat toworkers-was yet another blow io the moderate image of the Cristiam government.

Outlook

oll recenlly taken in the capital indicates that most Salvadorans blame theihe upsurge inreports say the public has lost some Confidence in *

Cnsiianj. His international imaee has suffered even more. He is therefore faced with the need for rapid, wide-ranging damage-control measures to demonstrate his authority and commitment toand thereby restore his leadership credentials aiVome and abroad.

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A maior step in this direction would be the swift, indictment and conviction of the military personnel implicated in the Jesuituch an action might rewore domestic and international confidence in Cristiani's willingness lo confront El Salvador's enirenched antidemocratic interest groups. Ensuring that his government avoids further blatant human rights abuses would strengthen his position. Although the President is almost certainly not involved in such abuse, he will inevitably be held accountable for any further vigilante violence, even if it is carried out without bis knowledge or approval.

A conunued demonstration.nfv Cristiani and hu. Cabinetih-nomic and social .policies initiated before the offensive will also help their cause. In particular, (he President is under pressure from the international community and Salvadnran opposition groups to resume nceouations with the FMLN. Although he has consistently stated his willingness to negotiate, the FMLN has had some success in portraying the government as intransigent on key points in the negotiations. Cristiani may have toore flexible position to dispel that obstructionist image and project the appearanceommitted democrat-

An imn-nriinqjhahYiiprovide an opportunity for iheassert his authority' The appointmentew defense minister of Cristiani's choosing, especiallyis over the objections of ARENA hardliners, would go far to demonstrate that the Pre.sidKni inPresident has already decided to name Colonel

Ponce io tne uetensc post and is only wailing'for an easing of pany dissension over an earlier attempt to name Ponce to the position. Removing corrupt Army officers and replacing some of his moreCabinet members would also strengthen Cristiani's leadership credentials.

Cristiani almost certainly realizes the need to bolster his authority, and since the offensive, he has made an effort to demonstrate his commitment to moderation and democracy. For example, he has invited the United States, Spain, and Great Britain lo participate in the Investigation uf die Jesuit murders, and he has secured the cooperation of Colonel Ponce in the questioning "of suspects in the military. Moreover, he refused to sign the antitcrrortsi legislation and sentack to the Nationalfor redrafting. He" has also stepped up efforts at dialogue with opposition groups.

Such moves-panicularly his recent implication of the military in the Jesuit killings-may be Opposed by some elements within lhe government and the military. That son of conflict will probably trigger Cristiani's consensual instincts and impel himess risky course, V.ffflTl of decisivelyinefficient and corrupt Cabinet and military iurdlingrsJ_such as he is likely io seek compromise solutions to avoid provoking imraparty conflict. These might include stepping back from moderate stands such as seeking negouauons withLN and moving slowly on removing corrupt or violent government or military personnel. If he chooses the conciliatory course, he will probably fail to quell doubts about his authority and will validate theamong foreign critics that extremists are mnnrng El Salvador. Thus, at this critical juncture inpresidency, he runs the risk of perpetuatine. the country's negative reputation and reducing his ability lo introduce poliucal reforms.

i HV?StV?ychoice, wlcetcd by Cmiiarn *hcn

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