Buffeted at home and abroad on its Salvadoran policy, the Reagan administration is finding a warm ally these days in Venezuela. President Luis Herrera Campins not only backs up Washington's support of Salvadoran Presidnet Jose Napoleon Duarte, but also has come out strongly against the recent French-Mexican declaration according a degree of recognition to anti-Duarte leftist guerrillas.
The Reagan administration, gratified by this Venezuelan support, is actively pushing its plan to sell 24 sophisticated F-16 jet fighters to Venezuela. But President Herrera Campins's stand on El Salvador is not seen as a trade-off here. Instead, it represents a deep-rooted feeling that Salvadoran leftists would not bring democracy to the country and that their victory would probably spawn growing instability in Central America and the whole Caribbean basin.
The Venezuelan leader sees El Salvador's current turmoil as similar to that which Venezuela passed through in the early 1960s when Marxist Guerrillas sought to bring down the government of the late Romulo Betancourt and to interfere with the establishement of democratic government after decades of military dictatorship here.
This view is winning applause from a wide segment of Venezuelas. Cynics here note that Mr. Duarte and Mr. Herrera Campins share the political ideology of Latin America's Christian Democratic movement and that therefore his support of Mr. Duarte and that of the ruling COPEI-Social Christian Party should not seem surprising. But approval of Mr. Herrera Campins's Salvadoran policy is broad.
It comes from the late Mr. Betancourt's Accion Democratica (AD), the major opposition party, and others opposition parties as well.
Moreover, Mr. Betancourt, whose funeral last week was the occasion for soul-searching on democracy here, stated his support of Washington's position several times recently. His presence at the United Nations last month when Mr. Herrera Campins spoke was seen here as a sign of his own agreement with Venezuela's current leader on El Salvador policy.
There are, of course, those within AD who disagree with the Herrera Campins view and these include former President Carlos Andres Perez. Just last week, for example, Marco Tulio Bruni Celli, an AD spokesman, stated that the party favored a coalition in El Salvador that would include the Marxist-leaning guerrillas.
That, however, immediately prompted other party members to disassociate themselves from the Bruni Celli position. They noted that Mr. Betancourt specifically rejected any Marxist role in his government in the 1960s. He also held that a negotiated political solution involving the Marxists in Venezuela required that they first lay down their arms.
Moreover, the late President held that the Venezuelan people themselves should decide their future. Both in 1947, during a brief but soon-to-aborted effort at establishing democracy, and gain in 1959 he pushed for elections as "the only way for the people to express their will," as he put it in 1947.
It is not overlooked here that Salvadoran President Duarte is following the same course. He has within the fortnight invited electoral specialists from around the hemisphere to help set up electorial machinery in El Salvador. THe Marxist guerrillas in El Salvador, however, have repeatedly scoffed at the electoral process. "They also did it here in Venezuela in 1960s," noted a columnist for El Universal, one of Caracas's morning dailies.
President Herrera Campins, speaking to several US journalists here last week, suggested Salvadoran guerrillas do not want a true democracy in El Salvador and that, despite their claims to the contrary, they do not truly want elections and public participation in running the country.
"When it comes to guerrilla groups [in El Salvador], journalists interview those who have no power, but on the other hand the guerrilla chief Cayetano Carpio has not said a word. Everyone has been interviewed about the French-Mexican declaration. . . . but the guerrilla leader has not said a word. . . . and no one has found him to question him, to explore these themes, to ask if he seeks a democratic solution, if he desires public participation to achieve [the democratic process in his country]."
The point is an important here in a country that prizes its own democratic underpinnings. Throughout its 150 years of independence, it experienced precious little democracy. But beginning in the mid-1940s and then effectively from 1960 onward, a democratic tradition has been building. That point was made over and over again during the past week of public mourning for the late Betancourt.