The simple act of meeting, the event in itself, in La Palma, El Salvador, Last Monday has already had important results. The process that could lead to peace in that country may be long and drawn out, but it has been set in motion and there is reason to hope that it will continue. The guerrillas have been recognized as a legitimate force, one with which the government must deal if it wishes to unify the country. And Jose Napoleon Duarte has finally been perceived, nationally and internationally, as the President of all Salvadorans.
The question now is, When will there be peace? The U.S. Ambassador, Thomas Pickering, made an intriguing comment. "No one in La Palma has made any commitment to a cease-fire," he said. "Something was said about humanizing the war. I think for the time being there will be a period of fire and talk," In other words, the issue is not peace at all, but power.
Power shifts and social changes in El Salvador over the last four bloody years of civil war produced the meeting in La Palma. That the dialogue began at all suggests that both sides are dubious about the possibility of a military victory. In that stalemate, the Salvadoran middle class, which supports Durate, is willing to consider a new social contract and political arrangement that would encompass a tactical alliance with the left.
As an industrialist who supports Duarte framed it, in an interview with correspondent Lucia Annunziata before the negotiations began:
Today the confrontation is not between communism and anticommunism but between two solutions for the future of El Salvador, D'Aubuisson is a local solution, the treaffirmation of the small-town identity of El Salvador, the continuity with past where repression and the army were played against anything new. Duarte is a modern and international solution, whose focus is to get the Salvadoran economy going again. People like me are interested in making a product competitive in the international market. If that means negotiations with the unions and guerrillas, it is fine for me.
For the left, the meeting was a way to enter the broader political discourse. Leftists hope that this process will create a peaceful climate in which the political and social struggle can be waged. The new guerrilla leadership is no pacifist; those who head the negotiations merely won the protracted political debate inside the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front when it became apparent the revolution could not be won by military means alone. Now they have a chance to put their theory into practice.