Argentines deceived about Latin solidarity
''We know who our friends are,'' said Rear Adm. Jorge Isaac Anaya, Navy member of Argentina's military junta.
Then, commenting on Latin American support for the Argentine side in the Falklands conflict, Admiral Anaya added: ''It is encouraging to realize the near-unanimous, hemisphere-wide support we enjoy.''
Buenos Aires newspapers, as well as official Argentine pronouncements, make it appear that virtually everyone in Latin America backs Argentina in the conflict. This litany of support is headlined daily and repeatedly.
But behind this steady drumbeat of comment is a different picture that Argentine Foreign Ministry officials privately recognize.
Far from a near-unanimous backing for Argentina, the majority of Latin America is wary of supporting a country that does not enjoy a very good reputation in the region.
Many Latin Americans regard Argentina with some disdain and see it as an arrogant nation. Some cite Argentina's human-rights violations and its position in a longstanding border dispute with Chile as reasons for not rushing to Argentina's cause in the Falklands crisis.
Many Latin Americans see the crisis itself as Argentine-provoked. ''Argentina simply acted poorly in seizing the Falklands in the first place,'' comments a Brazilian official who persists in calling the islands by their English name, rather than the Spanish name ''Malvinas.''
But in Buenos Aires, such considerations are ignored. The most vocal support for Argentina, according to Buenos Aires newspapers, comes from Venezuela and Peru -- nations with territorial disputes much like that of Argentina in the Falklands.
Venezuela claims three-fifths of Guyana and argues with Colombia over control of the Guajira Peninsula, which extends out into the Caribbean. Peru has a long dispute with Ecuador over the rugged El Condor region separating the two countries. Peru has an even longer conflict with Chile over several thousand square miles of Peruvian land seized by Chile in the War of the Pacific in the 1870s.
Venezuelan newspapers have made much of the fact that the Falkland islands were a British colony -- much as Guyana was British until independence in 1966. Some Venezuelans say now is the time to take the land in dispute with Guyana. Not all Venezuelans would go so far, but they are sympathetic to Argentina in the current crisis.
Venezuelan President Luis Herrera Campins speaks out regularly in support of Argentina. And he has been particularly critical of United States action in the dispute. He says that the US is going to face rough sledding in relations with Latin America in the wake of US backing of Britain over the Falklands. Other Latin American leaders have made the same point, but with less vigor than Mr. Herrera Campins.
A high-level Venezuelan delegation was in Buenos Aires in early May expressing support for the Argentine cause. Venezuela has agreed to supply Argentina with 10,000 barrels of oil a day for the next year ''and longer if needed.'' But that assistance fell far short of what some Argentines expected.
Peru's support has been more vocal than actual. In addition to a frustrated effort by Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde Terry to mediate the Falklands dispute, Peru announced a trade boycott in mid-April on British goods and refused to allow British aircraft or ships to use its ports.
But that boycott has ended. By early May, British ships were calling at Peruvian ports. On May 15 British Caledonian Airlines began flying into Lima again.
Peru's closing of ports and airspace to the British was much ballyhooed in the Buenos Aires press. The reopening, less than a month afterward, was given scant attention in some Argentine newspapers and no attention at all in others.
This tendency to play up news favorable to the Argentine cause and to downplay or ignore news that is less favorable is very evident in the Argentine press. Indeed, only the morning newspapers La Prensa, long a bastion of the free press, has printed the British version of battle action along side the Argentine version.