Cristiani an Urbane Businessman, Champion Athlete With AM-Salvador, Bjt
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Even in the heat of a championship squash match, Alfredo ″Fredy″ Cristiani, the empitome of good sportsmanship, never lost his temper or gentlemanly grace.
It is that suaveness and composure that helped the former standout athlete win the presidency, which he took over Thursday from Jose Napoleon Duarte.
The 41-year-old U.S.-educated businessman is a public relations dream-come- true for his rightist party, the Republican Nationalist Alliance.
From its inception in 1981, the party - known as a Arena - developed a neo- fascist image and a reputation for murder.
It was founded by cashiered army intelligence Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson, whom U.S. officials, human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church have linked to rightist death squads that killed thousands of suspected leftists in the early 1980s.
When D’Aubuisson lost the presidential election to Duarte in 1984, it became evident that Arena needed refurbishing if the right were to regain the power it exercised during previous decades in alliance with the armed forces.
D’Aubuisson ceded the party presidency to Cristiani, an urbane and strapping coffee-grower and pharmaceutical distributor.
″Be assured that I entered politics only because of the country’s grave crisis, and not motivated by personal ambition,″ Cristiani said in radio spots during the campaign for the March 19 election.
″I’d rather be running my business or deep-sea fishing,″ he said in an interview last year.
What remains to be seen is whether the accomplished sportsman - he was national squash champion through most of the 1970s, a national motocross champ and a member of the national volleyball team - has the final word on government policy.
He says he is in charge. Opponents of Arena doubt it, however. They say he is little more than a palatable front for what remains a totalitarian party.
But a friend and former courtmate said: ″Fredy is no pushover. Pushovers don’t become champion athletes.″
Cristiani graduated from Washington’s Georgetown University in 1968 with a degree in business administration.
He is married to Margarita Llach, a member of one of the country’s most aristocratic families. They have three children ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old.
Cristiani also is connected by marriage to the military elite. His wife’s sister is married to outgoing Defense Minister Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova.