Central America: the din of battle, search for peace
Washington — In Central America, the guns boom louder than the voices of would-be peacemakers. American-supported government forces have gone on the offensive in El Salvador. Honduras is asking the United States for more military aid, and the American presence in that country is being increased. And Nicaragua continues to mobilize against what it calls ''counterrevolutionaries.''
Spokesmen for the guerrillas in El Salvador have proposed a five-point solution to the Salvadorean conflict that looks like a nonstarter. In effect, it gives the US a prominent role in possible negotiations, and minimizes the role of the Salvadorean government.
In Washington and San Salvador, the proposal looks less like a negotiating move than a propaganda ploy designed to highlight United States intervention in the region.
Over the past few weeks, senior American officials have begun speaking to reporters of a variety of contingency plans, some of which might include the use of American combat troops in the region, should the situation, from the US point of view, dramatically deteriorate.
In his April 27 speech on Central America, President Reagan declared that ''there is no thought of sending American combat troops to Central America.'' But what seems clear at the moment is that officials are floating what are often referred to here as trial balloons. In this case, these balloons are apparently designed to test public opinion and prepare it for what would inevitably be controversial decisions.
It is probably no coincidence that senior US military men, including the departing American commander in Latin America and the Army chief of staff, have recently begun openly discussing the danger of sending US combat troops to Central America without the support of the American people. From the beginning of the Salvadorean crisis, military men, recalling Vietnam, have been the most cautious when it came to reviewing the option of direct intervention.
The one glimmer of hope on the peace front came from Richard Stone, President Reagan's special envoy in the region, who said he considered the idea of talks with guerrilla representatives to be of ''great importance.'' State Department officials said the possibility of a meeting between Mr. Stone and such representatives could not be ruled out.
But few observers expect much to come out of Stone's current tour of the region. State Department officials are calling the former Democratic senator's trip a ''familiarization tour.''
On the war front, Salvadorean government troops have launched a long-expected offensive into the fertile province of San Vicente, east of the Salvadorean capital. More than 4,000 soldiers are participating in the drive so far, the first of its kind to date. The troops are to be followed by civil-defense and civic-action teams that are to reopen abandoned farms, schools, and government services.
After sweeping San Vicente, the government troops are to move eastward to the neighboring province of Usulutan. The two provinces are key cotton-growing areas. Largely because of insecurity, the planting of cotton, El Salvador's No. 2 export crop, has fallen far below the acreage planted in previous years. The guerrillas have systematically attacked the nation's economic infrastructure; efforts have included the downing of more than a dozen crop-dusting planes.
In Honduras, the Reagan administration has sent some 100 military men to set up a training program for Salvadorean troops, more than doubling the number of US military personnel in the Central American nation.
The chief of the Honduran military forces, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, told Washington Post editors and reporters June 10 that it might be necessary for the US to intervene with combat troops in the event of an attack on his country from Nicaragua. General Alvarez said, however, that he did not expect such an attack would occur. Under the Rio Treaty of 1947, the US can take military action to help a Latin American country defend itself.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto offered a modestly hopeful comment about the just-ended visit to Managua by Stone. ''It was good that he came . . . it could eventually develop into a dialogue,'' Mr. D'Escoto said. However, evidence indicates that the US and Nicaraguan sides in the talks merely restated standard positions.
Spokesmen for the Salvadoran guerrillas, meanwhile, proposed five points for a political solution to the Salvadorean conflict. Among other things, they suggested negotiations among guerrilla representatives and the governments of El Salvador and the United States.
In a letter to Stone, the guerrillas suggested a meeting be held in the US ''in the presence of witnesses from the US Congress.'' This suggested propaganda rather than negotiation to some State Department officials.
A State Department spokesman expressed concern that the release of the guerrillas' letter to Stone might mean the guerrillas rejected the June 2 offer extended by El Salvador's government-appointed peace commission to engage in a ''constructive dialogue'' with the guerrillas' political front, the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR) in order to discuss elections and any other subject the FDR might raise.