US-Latin bond survives Falklands war
Buenos Aires, Caracas, and Rio de Janeiro
''Irreparable harm done United States relationsSkip to next paragraph
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with Latin America by its support of Britain''
That headline in Clarin, a mass-circulation tabloid in Buenos Aires, sums up conventional wisdom on the effect of US support of Britain in the recent Falklands conflict.
But in fact there is suprisingly little rancor toward the US in the aftermath of the war, this correspondent found in a wide-ranging survey of Latin American governments.
There are several reasons for this relative absence of anger.
For one thing, most Latin American countries now appear to be somewhat embarrassed by supporting Argentina - despite their strong criticism of the US during the war.
''We were forced into this position (of support for Argentina) because Argentina is a sister republic, not because we really believed in Argentine actions,'' wrote an editorial writer in Prensa Libre, a Guatemala City daily.
Rapport between Argentina and its neighbors has never been particularly strong. Argentina views itself as more European than Latin, and this social distance is another reason why Latin American nations are not as angry with the US as they might have been if another Latin country had been involved in such a conflict. Not one Latin nation, besides Argentina, broke relations with the US - or even with London - during the conflict.
To be sure, Latin Americans would have preferred a more neutral US stance in the British-Argentine war. But as one of the most influential Western Hemisphere diplomats in Washington observes, ''The United States does a lot of things that do not set well with us, and yet our relations change little as a result.''
A fundamental reason for absence of anger is the perception in each Latin American nation of the essential nature of its relations with the US. In most countries - with the exception of Cuba, which led hemisphere cheering for Argentina - bilateral ties with Washington are what count.
Even Venezuela and Peru - Argentina's most solid backers in the war - now are scrambling to repair ties with Washington. And they are using the goodwill they won from Argentina to urge early Argentine return to democracy.
Venezuela, Peru, Panama, and Guatemala offered support for Argentina and criticized the US during the Falklands war. But special circumstances were involved:
Venezuela claims two-thirds of neighboring Guyana, a former British colony; Peru has a longstanding border dispute with Chile, a nation with that has another border dispute with Argentina; Guatemala claims Belize; and Panama has a love-hate relationship with the US over the Panama Canal. Therefore they rose to Argentina's defense in its war over the the Falklands.
But it appears Washington's relations with others in the hemisphere have not been damaged permanently. And it seems that even in the short run, US ties with Latin America have suffered relatively little. Only with Argentina do relations appear to have been seriously damaged - and there, the damage may be only short-lived.
Here is a rundown on attitudes in four of Latin America's most influential nations:
* Argentina: ''Washington deceived us,'' complained former Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez at the height of the war. ''How can a great democracy like the United States support an evil government in London when right is on our side?''
Many Argentines echo Mr. Costa Mendez's view even now.
Despite its anger at the US, Argentina has yet to pull its military advisers out of Central America, where it was supporting US efforts to beef up beleaguered government forces in El Salvador.
Argentina, nevertheless, is deeply embittered about the US stand on the Falklands conflict. Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri told colleagues before he was ousted, ''The US must be punished for its intrasigence.''
Lt. Gen. Cristino Nicolaides, who took over as Army commander in chief with General Galtieri's ouster, is less belligerent in his view. But he is known to feel that the US was ''totally wrong'' in backing Britain. One colonel spoke for many Argentine military men when he said Washington ''has a lot of atoning to do before we can have good relations.''
This week, the Reagan administration lifted a variety of economic sanctions imposed on Argentina April 30 when Washington announced its support of Britain. The sanctions included Export-Import Bank credits, insurance, and Commodity Credit Corporation guarantees. But the White House, announcing the end of economic sanctions, made no mention of restoring military aid suspended five years ago by Carter.