THE Reagan administration is under increasing pressure from the right to shift its support in Mozambique from the leftist government of President Joaquim Chissano to the group of anticommunist insurgents known as Renamo. Such a shift sounds reasonable enough. But the administration should resist the push and firmly hold its ground. Like China, Marxist Mozambique, ruled by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), has moved recently in a Western, capitalistic direction, negotiating major economic reforms with lenders.
The Reagan administration, correctly, wants to encourage such moderation. Britain, which recently doubled its aid to Maputo and trains Mozambican Army officers, shares that view.
Mozambique has been pressed hard by a lengthy civil war, a failing economy, and a drought-caused famine, made worse by Renamo's destruction of farmland and sabotage of global relief efforts.
Washington has promised $75 million in emergency food aid. But proponents of a policy change say the food is unlikely to get to the needy in many areas unless the administration talks with Renamo.
To force the issue, some Republicans have been holding up Senate confirmation of Melissa Wells, the administration's candidate for ambassador to Mozambique and a veteran of two other African ambassadorships. A group of 28 Republicans, led by Sen. Jesse Helms and including Senate minority leader and aspiring presidential candidate Robert Dole, threatens a filibuster.
The State Department is convinced that Renamo, which has an active lobbying arm in Washington, is backed by some parts of the South African government, despite the 1984 Nkomati agreement barring such aid. Last Friday Frelimo claimed that South Africa launched its first direct attack on Mozambique, killing three citizens, since that accord.
Renamo is often mistakenly compared to the UNITA resistance in Angola. A genuine nationalist movement aimed at unseating a government imposed in violation of an agreement promising elections, UNITA has considerably more popular support and is openly backed by both the US and Pretoria. Renamo has a divided leadership and is directed and supported largely by forces outside Mozambique. Beyond their military reliance on brutality and terrorism, destroying much that the nation will have to rebuild, Renamo guerrillas lack a positive program of action.
The Reagan administration correctly views Renamo as a dangerously destabilizing force in a nation that has become a friend of the West. Though we hold out few illusions that Maputo will soon or ever cut its ties to the East bloc, the White House cannot afford to let pass such an opportunity to influence and help a widely recognized government headed in a constructive direction. While Mozambique still relies heavily on Soviet weapons, it has denied basing rights to Moscow, and no Soviet presence hovers over Maputo as it does over Angola. The Reagan administration should continue to help Mozambique follow its nonaligned course toward liberalization.