Argentina denies charge it has troops in Latin America

A major diplomatic row broke out here recently when Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockman stated publicly in the United States that Argentina was destabilizing Nicaragua and preparing to send troops to El Salvador.

The Argentine Foreign Ministry prompty denied the accusations, recalled its ambassador from Managua, and privately told the local press that Foreign Minister d'Escoto was spreading adventurist leftist propaganda.

But some observers remain skeptical of this account. Many say d'Escoto, who is also a Roman Catholic priest, may be exaggerating, but that the essence of his concern -- of a growing Argentine involvement in Central America -- is not far from the truth.

Argentine military officials insist that direct military involvement is not planned and that sending troops to Central America would only be considered in response to a formal request from the Organization of American States or from the US and other Western countries. But military sources report that advisers are helping armed forces in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Although Argentine involvement in Central America is difficult to gauge because of camouflaging, there are three reasons why the present Argentine government led by Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri may be disposed to closer involvement in Central America:

First, Argentine foreign policy under General Galtieri has shifted from nonalignment, favored by former Foreign Minister Oscar Camilion, to staunchly pro-US. General Galtieri and his military officers share the geopolitical views held by the Reagan administration. Officially they see the current struggle in Central America as essentially between communist and noncommunist forces, and one that if not contained could spread to the rest of the continent.

Secondly, a number of those reportedly being sent as Argentine military advisers are those who were directly involved in anti-guerrilla warfare on their home ground both before and after the 1976 coup. Some observers say that because the government is trying to project a more democratic image, a number of military personnel are being sent outside the country.

Finally, there appears to be pressure from Argentine military manufacturers who see their domestic sales being curbed because of the government's emphasis on austerity. Central America provides an established sales outlet. Many here believe, for instance, that arms and ammunition, camouflaged as ''medical aid,'' were sent to Nicaragua during the final days of the Somoza regime.

Nicaragua says an estimated 80-100 Argentines are cooperating with antigovernment forces along the Honduras border. It has also been claimed that the Argentine Embassy in Managua has been secretly encouraging a Miskita Indian uprising against the Sandinista government. An estimated 2,000 of the Indians fled to Honduras when Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle was toppled from leadership in Nicaragua.

Argentine military advisers in El Salvador are estimated to range between 20 and 100. Salvadoran Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia has denied that there are advisers, but stressed that relations between El Salvador and Argentina were ''excellent.'' More recently, Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte would neither confirm or deny the charge.

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