Behind Enders ouster: larger US role in Central America and 'no' to talks?
In removing Thomas O. Enders as the State Department's top policymaker on Latin America, the Reagan administration gives every appearance of clearing the decks for a deepening - and potentially dangerous - involvement in Central America.
Moreover, there is now little likelihood that Washington will support negotiations of any sort in the Salvadorean civil war between leftist guerrillas and the embattled Salvadorean government.
Backing up these assessments were developments that came almost simultaneously with the Enders ouster:
* Announcement that at least 100 more United States military advisers will be dispatched in June to a new base in Honduras where they will train 2,400 Salvadorean soldiers in guerrilla warfare. The move deepens Honduras' involvement in the regional conflict.
* Indication that the actual number of US military advisers in El Salvador itself may be upped from the current 55, a limit imposed by the Carter and Reagan administrations for the past 30 months. If implemented, this would further increase the vulnerability of US personnel in El Salvador - a vulnerability that was tragically illustrated this past week with the killing of the deputy chief of the US advisers.
* Issuance by the State and Defense departments of a document that accuses Cuba of expanding its ''political-military activism'' in Central America. The report argues that Cuba, Nicaragua, and leftist guerrillas in El Salvador are coordinating plans to increase terrorism in Central America.
In addition, there are unconfirmed reports that Deane R. Hinton, US ambassador in El Salvador, will soon be replaced by someone ''more in keeping with Reagan administration policy,'' as one State Department source indicated over the weekend.
Several administration officials say all these signals clearly imply a tougher US stance on Central America and likely more US military involvement in the region's turmoil.
The moves also put the US at odds with many of its Latin American neighbors who are searching for solutions independent of US involvement - particularly to the growing civil war in Nicaragua between the Sandinista government and its opponents, some of whom have received US training.
There is now no doubt that William P. Clark, President Reagan's national security adviser, and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, US ambassador at the United Nations, have won the President's ear in determining Central American policy. Both favor a tough, nondiplomatic approach in dealing with the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador and the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. It is no secret that Mr. Clark and Ambassador Kirkpatrick had feuded in recent months with Mr. Enders in a number of policy debates.
Mr. Enders advocated a ''two-track'' policy in El Salvador that sought both negotiations with the leftist guerrillas and continuance of military support for the Salvadorean government. This dual approach never set well with either Clark or Kirkpatrick. Clark argued that negotiations could weaken the Salvadorean government. The Enders ouster appears to be a signal that negotiations have been rejected.
Although Enders was regarded by some observers as hard line on Central American issues, he nevertheless wanted to keep the level of US military involvement from escalating. He worried that the presence of more US troops in the area could drag the US into a quagmire.
Enders, who now is scheduled to go to Spain as US ambassador, is thought to have argued against an increase at this time in the number of US military advisers in either Honduras or El Salvador. He also apparently sought to delay the release of the State and Defense departments' report, saying that it contained little new information and that its language could ignite the explosive situation in Central America.
The administration, in announcing the Enders ouster, tried to give the impression that his removal as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs was simply a ''routine'' transfer. But career diplomats in the State Department's Latin America office, who had grown to appreciate Enders since his appointment more than two years ago, say the move is anything but routine.
''It is clear the White House intends to control Central American policy and that voices of reason have lost out,'' said one.
Mr. Reagan has tapped Langhorne A. Motley, US ambassador to Brazil, as Enders's replacement. Mr. Motley, a former lobbyist against environmentalist groups, was active in Republican politics in Alaska before becoming ambassador to Brazil. He is reported to have impressed Mr. Reagan during the President's three-day visit to Brazil in December 1982.