Bogota, Colombia — Latin America is not giving the Reagan administration the wide-ranging support it had expected for moves to halt the Cuban flow of arms to Salvadoran guerrillas.
Most Latin American countries are counseling Washington to take whatever measures are necessary -- short of intervention -- to end the sealift of arms and ammunition to leftist insurgents. But they are also cautioning President Reagan that El Salvador's economic and social needs should not be overlooked.
Many of these governments worry that the new US President is more concerned with communist-inspired insurgency in the embattled Central American country than with other crying needs. Unless economic and social problems are resolved, they are telling roving Reagan ambassadors, communist insurrency will linger as a problem.
Even latin America's military-ruled nations are making this point.
Officials told US representatives that they are prepared to accept State Department evidence of Soviet-bloc arms aid to Salvadoran guerrillas, but that they are less than enthusiastic about supporting countermeasures. Some feel that the mere revelation of the evidence, with all the ballyhoo it is creating, may itself curb the arms flow.
Apparently the US had expected greater support from the military governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, but all three had rough experiences with the US under President Carter, and are therefore a bit reserved. They are pleased that Ronald Reagan is president, but they are nonetheless inclined to show express caution when Washington comes courting.
Military leaders in both Argentina and Brazil listened with interest to the US case presented by retired Gen. Vernon Walters, a former US military attache in Brazil and former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. But they said they would not be receptive to intervention.
On the other hand, they were impressed that the Reagan administration sought to consult with them on the Salvador issue.
The leaders said the US should put emphasis on the root problems of subversion rather than on trying to pull out "the weed at its flower," as one Brazilian general put it.
"If the weed is growing," he went on, "it won't do any good to simply cut the flower off, you've got to root it out. And that means, in the case of El Salvador, you've got to go after the root causes of the insurgency, that is, the poverty of the country, the social imbalance, the political immorality."
Only chile has expressed "a certain receptivity" to the possibility of US intervention in el Salvador.
There is a feeling in Argentina and brazil that stepped-up US military training of Salvadoran army units would be useful. But even on this point, Washington was urged to try to get the Salvaforan military to be more respectful of human rights. "Never forget the political and social content of the Salvadoran imbroglio," said an Argentine official.
Some of these governments wonder if the Reagan administration has thought seriously enough about trying to work out a political compromise in el Salvador --perhaps some sort of coalition of the civilian-military junta and responsible Social Democrats of the left.
Mexico, as usual, has a special case. It has been sympathetic to the Salvadoran leftists and has criticized both rightits and the ruling civilian-military junta. Privately, however, Mexico is propping up the junta, providing petroleum for the Army, food, and other supplies. It listened to the US case, but just after listening, President Jose Lo pez Portillo called Cuba Mexico's best friend.