Many Mexicans are having deep second thoughts about their country's tacit support of El Salvador's leftist guerrillas. That support continues because other Mexicans, including President Jose Lopez Portillo, see the leftist tide in Central America as inevitable. But there is an underlying sense of ominous concern in Mexico city that El Salvador's growing civil strife could have eventual spinoff effects that Mexico would find disturbing.
In particular, Mexican officials worry that an unstable Central America might threaten Mexico's southern flank, which is also the site of much of their country's newfound oil wealth.
This concern is especially evident in Mexican military circles. Mexican Army maneuvers recently took place in the southern oil-rich state of Chiapas. The Mexican Army also has beefed up its border garrisons to prevent Guatemalan guerrillas from crossing over into Mexico. And the Mexican military is looking for new equipment to replace its somewhat outdated arsenal.
But the Mexican military is not alone in worrying about El Salvador. Concern is evident in some political and business circles as well. Some Mexicans even indicate that an increased US role in the Central American country, perhaps with a Mexican input, might be viewed favorably.
The concerns of these Mexicans center on the likelihood that an unstable Central America could have unsettling effects on Mexico.
As a result, there is considerable Mexican support for the Mexican military's plans to update its equipment and increase its effectiveness. The military is searching for new arms -- with a shopping list that includes German-made automatic rifles, Israeli light tanks, and sophisticated Israeli or US jet fighters. Washington, however, has so far given the Mexicans little encouragement about buying US planes. Although the US has not shut the door on such purchases, Mexican government officials recognize they probably will have to look elsewhere unless the Reagan administration changes the US stance.
Gen. Felix Galvan Lopez, Mexico's defense minister, was in Israel recently studying the prospects of purchasing the Israeli tanks and also looking at Israel's Kfir fighter planes.
None of this, however, should in any way indicate a Mexican swing away from its basic support of massive social and economic reform in El Salvador. Moreover, the oligarchic structure of Salvadoran society is anathema to the Mexican psyche. Even many of those who worry about the Marxist overtones of the Salvadoran left are inclined to favor the causes that the guerrillas support.
Cuban involvement in Central America and in particular in El Salvador underlies much of the concern.Mexican government officials confirm US estimates that leftist guerrillas recently received a heavy infusion of new weaponry from Cuban sources. Even President Lopez Portillo has expressed this concern. But he has at the same time passed the word to the Reagan administration that he at least opposes any unilateral US intervention in El Salvador.
President Lopez Portillo also is reluctant to approve purchases of the new equipment the military wants, although he recognizes the military suffers from out- dated weaponry. He feels the costs of new weapons cannot be justified when Mexico has its own economic and social problems; half its population lives in poverty.
As for Central America and particularly El Salvador, Lopez Portillo leads those in Mexico who see a leftist sweep as inevitable. He regards efforts to stem such a sweep as doomed to face the same sort of experience the US ran into in Vietnam.
His reasoning suggests it is better to go along with the change and to try to direct it than to try stop it. Moreover, the Mexican President is much more comfortable with the people in the guerrillas cause than with the rightists who have long dominated Salvadoran politics.
But present thinking in Mexican military, business, and even government circles shows definite signs of running counter to this view.