While the United States squeezes Nicaragua, America's increasingly influential southern neighbor is pursuing a different -- and more generous -- approach to the Nicaraguan revolutionaries.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the terms that Mexico has extended to Nicaragua for Mexican oil exports. Those terms are reported by specialists to be vastly more favorable to Nicaragua than are the concessionary terms Mexico offers other Central American and Caribbean nations.
The Mexican rationale seems to be this: Don't squeeze the Nicaraguans or they are going to become "another Cuba." By being generous and understanding, you have a chance to moderate their behavior.
Some Mexican officials are reported to have quietly acknowledged that Nicaragua may have been shipping weapons to the guerrillas in US-supported El Salvador. But, in the Mexican view, this is not the most important thing. The arms are coming from several sources, including arms dealers working out of democratic, pro-American Costa Rica, they say. El Salvador's problems are mainly a matter of social and economic injustices, which must be resolved through political change.
In the Mexican view, if you're too public in the way in, which you go about squeezing Nicaragua, you will make it almost impossible for them to stop aiding their guerrilla friends in El Salvador.
Some American officials in the region doubt the wisdom of this approach, and one went so far as to accuse the Mexicans of "coddling" the Nicaraguan revolutionaries.
One specialist on the subject of petroleum said, meanwhile, that the oil deal that Mexico gave Nicaragua goes back to last August. Mexico joined Venezuela in supplying low-interest credit for oil exports to nations of the Caribbean basin.
Under the normal arrangement, the two nations require that an importer in the region pay for one-third of the oil imports under concessionary terms. If the importer can prove that the money saved is used for energy-related projects, the importer gets the oil at 2 percent interest over a 20-year period. Four percent interest over a shorter period is required for nonenergy-related savings. The remaining two-thirds of the oil bill would normally be paid in cash.
The specialist said, however, that in the case of Nicaragua, Mexico had quietly agreed to extend the most generous terms for all ofits oil exports -- valued at about $80 million in 1981.
"The interesting thing is that this has never been announced," said the specialist. "I think Mexico is trying to keep it secret."
Pemex, the Mexican oil company, a state-owned monopoly, has denied giving special terms beyond those already announced to any country.
But what is clear is that Mexico is taking a softer attitude toward Nicaragua than is the United States.
But some American officials argue that Mexico and the US are not so far apart when it comes to the strategic goal of moderating the Nicaraguan revolution and preventing Nicaragua from becoming an instrument of Cuba and the Soviet Union.
"The difference is a matter of tactics," said a State Department official. "the Mexicans think you can do more with a carrot. We think that at this stage you've got to use more of a stick. But if you look carefully at what we've done , you'll see that we are using a lot of carrot as well."
The State Department official said that he did not expect differences over Nicaragua to in any way disrupt President Reagan's forthcoming meeting with Mexico's President Jose Lopez Portillo. Both American and Mexican officials have noted that the two men seem to get along extremely well on a personal level at their first meeting, which was held at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Jan. 5.
But some specialists note that Mexico's disagreements with the United States over Central America stem from fundamentally different views of the region's history and that those disagreements are complicated by longstanding Mexican sympat hy for the Cuban revolution.