A representative of the Salvadoran leftist rebels confirmed news reports that the Faribundo Marti Liberation Front, or FMLN, met directly with the U.S. administration in January for the first time in eight years.
Luis Flores, a representative of the FMLN and FDR rebel organizations in the United States, was in Salt Lake City Thursday to speak at the University of Utah.Asked if the meeting with State Department officials had left him optimistic, he said only: "It was a friendly meeting."
The talks took place right after the Salvadoran revolutionaries had offered to peacefully participate in that country's presidential elections if the government would postpone them for six months.
The United States encouraged the Christian Democratic government of Napoleon Duarte to seriously consider the guerrillas' offer. But it was rejected, and the elections went forward in March, bringing to power right-wing candidate Alredo Cristiani.
The guerrillas interfered with transportation, attacked government targets and called on people to boycott the elections, then rejected the voting results because of the low turnout.
Speaking Wednesday at the university, Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador under Jimmy Carter, said there was "a certain schizophrenia" to the rebels' approach. He deplored the election-day violence.
"I think it's a mistake. I think it's wrong and I think that they would have been well-advised not to do that."
But White said the actions must be viewed in the context of the government's rejection of the guerrillas' offer, which he termed "a real opening."
Flores disagreed that the violence had been a mistake.
"We provided a justification to the people to not go to vote." The rebel representative said that normally, anyone whose identification card is not stamped to show he has voted is suspected of being a subversive.
Flores stressed that the FMLN did not interfere with anyone who did vote, although it could have done so.
The FLMN representative predicted an upswing in repression under Cristiani's Republican Nationalist Alliance party, ARENA. The party has long been identified with Salvadoran military death squads, but Cristiani has promised a more moderate approach respectful of human rights.
Flores called Cristiani a facade and said Roberto d'Aubuisson remains the real leader of ARENA.
"Everybody knows that Roberto d'Aubuisson planned the assassination of (Catholic Archbishop) Oscar Romero. Everybody knows that Roberto d'Aubuisson was involved in the assassination of the four North American nuns."
Flores said the terrorist tactics used by the government and its military death squads in 1980-82, when thousands of Salvadorans were murdered, have begun to reappear. He cited the capture of 25 leaders of what he called the grassroots movement and the disappearance of about 10 more people since the March elections. He also said five bodies were thrown from two passing military helicopters in recent days.