Ecuador worries Salvador turmoil may spread to South America

Here in this remote corner of the Western Hemisphere tucked away amid towering, snowcapped volcanoes, Central America and its wars seem at first quite distant.

Yet ''the turmoil in El Salvador and Nicaragua,'' as President Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea phrases it, is no longer a distant issue for Ecuadoreans.

The President, who is in his final year in office, worries that Central America's turmoil, if unchecked, is likely to spread and could eventually engulf Ecuador as well.

Explicit in his concern is the presence of strong leftist guerrilla movements in both Colombia to the north and Peru to the south.

For the moment, both the Colombian and Peruvian governments appear able, despite difficulty, to keep those challenges in check. But for how long, many Ecuadoreans ask.

They suspect that Central America's struggles will eventually have an impact on both Colombia and Peru, strengthening their guerrilla movements. This may already have happened, some worry.

There is already growing, albeit limited, economic and social unrest in Ecuador - fertile ground for the sort of turmoil engulfing Central America.

How, then, can the spread of this turmoil be checked?

The Hurtado administration, like many otherLatin American governments, clearly favors negotiations to end the fighting in El Salvador. President Hurtado has stated this repeatedly and plans to do so again in New York at the end of the month when he speaks to the United Nations General Assembly.

But Ecuador does not appear to favor power-sharing between the Salvadorean government and the leftist guerrillas. Instead, Ecuador supports elections to determine who should hold power.

Ecuador has done what it can to lend at least limited support to the Salvadorean government and to distance itself from the Salvadorean guerrilla cause.

That was made clear again during last week's much publicized visit of Salvadorean Foreign Minister Fidel Chavez Mena to Quito. The Salvadorean official came here, and has now gone on to Lima, the Peruvian capital, to drum up support for his government among Ecuadoreans and Peruvians.

He seems to have gotten that support here.

Meeting with President Hurtado, Foreign Minister Luis Valencia Rodriguez, and many other Ecuadoreans in and out of government, Mr. Chavez Mena is understood to have gotton on well with them.

Ecuador is at the start of its presidential election campaign, and even two of the more leftist candidates welcomed the Chavez Mena visit. These candidates expressed their belief that the ballot box is the way to win power - although some of them are not particularly happy with the government Mr. Chavez Mena represents.

With President Hurtado at his side, the Salvadorean foreign minister said, ''The idea of a government shared between the Army and the guerrilla is totally unacceptable. The right to govern must be won at the ballot box.''

Chavez Mena repeatedly told audiences that peace in El Salvador is desirable, but leftist guerrillas must not be allowed to win on the battlefield.

''That, too, is unacceptable,'' he said in one public appearance. He was applauded.

In his public pronouncements, the Salvadorean official also praised the United States for its role in Central America.

''The presence of the US fleet,'' he added, ''has to be seen as a dissuasive presence that will benefit a peaceful solution'' in the region.

Ecuadoreans seem to agree. A joint statement, issued by Foreign Ministers Chavez Mena and Valencia, condemned foreign interference in Central America, but this seemed more directed at the Soviet Union and Cuba than at the US.

Newspaper editorials generally took the same approach. At week's end El Comercio wrote: ''The intervention of the United States cannot hide the intrusion of Russia and Cuba in the life and destiny of these people,'' and may actually help ''since no one can ignore the fact that Soviet imperialism has its claws extended.''

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