Argentina: neighbors hold back. Latin America unity masks deep hostility

To read newspapers here, one would think that just about everyone in Latin America is solidly behind Argentina in its dispute with Britain over the Falklands.

Yet underneath this journalistic facade lie deep antagonisms that no amount of newspaper copy can mask.

Moreover, these antagonisms are going to make it hard for Argentina to win the required two-thirds majority in the Organization of American States deliberations this week on invoking the Rio de Janeiro Treaty of Mutual Assistance in the Falklands dispute.

As hemisphere foreign ministers gathered in Washington to act on the Argentine request that the treaty be invoked in the face of what Buenos Aires calls British ''aggression,'' some of the antagonisms were surfacing.

But Argentina was doing all that it could to stress the urgency of its Rio Treaty request following the British recapture of the South Georgia Islands early April 25.

The Argentines are clearly shouting ''foul'' over British actions.

But many Latin Americans think there should be some shouting of foul over Argentine actions.

In fact, there is substantial Latin American anger over the Argentine seizure of the Falklands. Many Latin Americans simply see Argentina as the aggressor.

In Brazil, Latin America's biggest nation, and Argentina's most determined rival, this anger centers on what Brazilians see as Argentine adventurism in the Falklands and the opening of a can of worms that will have far reaching consequences in the hemisphere.

''From now on, any nation with a territorial dispute can simply move militarily,'' said a very high Brazilian official, ''and let the chips fall where they may, invoking any legal treaty or document it wants.''

It is not lost on Brazilians or other Latin Americans that there are 20 or more active border disputes in the hemisphere - Venezuela with Guyana, Guatemala with Belize, Peru with Equador, Colombia with Venezuela, El Salvador with Honduras, and Chile with Argentina among the more notable ones.

And what of those long ago and far away territorial occupations which have resulted in more or less established borders including the Mexican-United States border?

Or even closer to home here, the Argentina-Chilean border? At one time in the last century, most of Argentina's southern Patagonian regions were Chilean. Could Chile just march into Argentina's south and reclaim Patagonia?

These questions are quietly being discussed all around the hemisphere as Argentina proceeds with efforts to invoke the Rio de Janeiro treaty.

But underlying the present Falklands dispute and questions about Argentine action is an unspoken anti-Argentina feeling on the part of many Latin American nations. While it is seldom voiced, an anti-Argentine bias does exist.

In essence, it stems from past actions by the Argentines - perceived slights in OAS voting and in diplomatic dealing; a feeling that Argentina throws its weight around; the attitude of superiority which other Latin Americans feel Argentines express, and so on. Latin Americans are essentially caught in a dilemma on the current Falklands issue. They have all these feelings. But here is a fellow Latin American country in trouble. No matter that it has opened up a can of worms in its actions. No matter that many Latin Americans see Argentina as the aggressor. It is still a sister Latin American republic.

Argentina therefore can count on strong Latin American support in the OAS deliberations in Washington. It could win the necessary two-thirds majority to invoke the Rio Treaty. But privately, even Argentine diplomatic sources here are not sure of the vote.

Moreover, there is some doubt whether Argentina will receive active military assistance even if the hemisphere votes to invoke the treaty.

And indeed, the Rio treaty provides an ''out'' for Latin American governments which vote to invoke the treaty. A clause in the document provides that resolutions of the United Nations take precedence over action ordered under the treaty.

It is not overlooked that there is a UN resolution calling on Argentina to withdraw its forces from the Falklands.

Argentina has not done that - and is unlikely to do so.

''The only way to dislodge the Argentines,'' a Mexican official is quoted as commenting privately, ''is to wait until the British do it.''

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