Ending his two-week mission of telling latin Americans about Cuban and Soviet intervention in El Salvador, Gen. Vernon Walters paused briefly in Panama -- and may have more impact here than anywhere else on his route.
He breakfasted March 3 with two influential Latin American leftists -- former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez and Dominican Republic political leader Jose Francisco Pena Gomez.
The two have been critical over the US role in El Salvador, and had just attended a meeting in Panama of Latin American socialists. Socialists at the meeting pledged ardent support of the Salvadoran guerrillas.
The general mentioned this aid to Messrs. Perez and Pena Gomez, then surprised them by speaking at length about US desire for a negotiated settlement in El Salvador and US willingness to accept a pluralistic society for the Central American country.
General Walters told reporters about this at an airport press conference just before he returned to the United States.
It will take some time to determine the full impact General Walters had on the two leaders, who are both extremely important Latin American leftists. They have influence throughout the region.
As the Walters mission ends, there is little doubt that his message of Cuban and Soviet "adventurism" in El Salvador has been accepted almost everywhere he went. Most leaders regard the US proof as conclusive. There is also concern about Cuba and the Soviet Union putting arms into Central America.
But there is little unanimity among Latin Americans about what to do about the situation. Some Latin Americans support US military intervention, but the majority would not. Latin Americans are not sure what they themselves can or should do, and they wonder if a negotiated settlements is possible in the charged Salvadoran atmosphere.
The willingness of the US to agree to a pluralistic society, which General Walters described, appears to have cleared a hurdle that Latin Americans like Perez and Pena Gomez saw as a stumbling block in seeking a Salvadoran solution.
This does not imply that the two leaders are happy with the US commitment of additional military equipment and advisers to El Salvador.
They feel the US is intervening in El Salvador -- and it is a little like "the pot calling the kettle black," a leading Panamanian spokesman noted. "The US is doing the very thing that it accuses the Cubans and the Russians of doing."
Answering that argument, the State Department noted that the US was supplying a legitimate government, while the Cubans and Soviets were aiding a leftist guerrilla organization seeking to bring down the government.
Although no agreements or pledges were made at the Walters meeting with the two leftist leaders, the meeting is nonetheless seen here as a breakthrough, one that may have an impact throughout Latin America and could perhaps lead to a mutual US-Latin American response to ending the Salvadoran civil war.
US officials here feel the Panama meeting may have contributed as much as the rest of Walters mission around South America. General Walters' trip took him to countries whose leaders are far to the right of both Perez and Pena Gomez and who look with horror on a Cuban an d Soviet solution for El Salvador.