''I am convinced that there is a tide of revolution rising and sweeping over Central America that will not be held back - a revolution for freedom, for democracy, for participation by the individual in some shape or form in the life of his community. The only way this revolution can be held back is with totalitarian repression.''
So said Boston University president John R. Silber, a member of President Reagan's bipartisan Commission on Central America, shortly after his return from an extensive tour of Central America.
In a lengthy interview, Dr. Silber discussed his recent trip and the issues the commission now faces.
The people of the region ''believe the commission constitutes a major new development on the part of the United States,'' Silber says. ''They speak in historic terms about the importance of this move. They really expect something to come of this, and I hope we prove worthy of their expectation.''
But he says it is still an open question how effective the commission will be in conveying to the Congress and the American public the high degree of trust being placed in the commission by the people of Central America.
''This is my greatest concern,'' he says. ''I do not know for one moment if this commission will be able to rally the support of the Congress for the long-term program that is needed.''
There is no point in starting a program this year or next year if the US is not going to continue it for 10 years, he says. Starting a program two or three years from now would be too late.
''This much is clear,'' says Silber. ''The needs of the region are acute, they are immediate, and they will be of long duration.''
He says the commission saw a region suffering from deep poverty - ''poverty that goes beyond misery,'' as he was told by one official.
The independent and sometimes controversial university president (because of his outspoken leadership of the school) says he was greatly surprised by the widespread fear of the military buildup in Nicaragua expressed in all the countries of the region.
''The forces are substantially stronger than all the other countries combined and they are still building, as rapidly as possible,'' says the former philosophy professor.
He likens the anxiety of the Costa Ricans in the face of the Sandinista military buildup to that of the Austrians before the Nazi Anschluss (incorporation of Austria into Germany) in 1938.
And Silber is emphatic in criticizing the way the ''dominant media'' covered the commission's stay in Nicaragua. He terms it ''the manufacture of the news by the US television networks. These people (TV media) acted as if demonstrations can happen spontaneously in Nicaragua.''
He asks why the media didn't cover the government buses that transported demonstrators, the block parties that went out and gathered people into the square, or the fact that the square where the demonstration was held was nowhere near where the commission was meeting.
''This was a media event created by the Nicaraguan government for the benefit of the US media gullible enough to become the instruments of Nicaraguan propaganda,'' he says.
Just what some of the answers are for the region is not yet clear to commission members, says Silber. But, he adds, ''You're close to a solution to a problem, or question, when you have correctly formulated that question. (Since the trip) we are getting to some very clear and accurate formulations of the question.''
Silber concurs with Henry A. Kissinger, chairman of the bipartisan commission , when Dr. Kissinger posits that there is a parallelism in the two key countries of El Salvador and Nicaragua that must be recognized. Each of them, says Silber, is where the crisis is at the extreme and the commission is being asked to make hard choices.
The Sandinistas say they want peace, but at the expense of democracy, Silber says.
He adds that the oligarchy in El Salvador says that if security is wanted, there must be human rights violations. ''The commission is saying there has got to be a better answer than that.''
One answer he foresees, and it is a recurrent theme of his, is a call for an expanded role for US higher education in helping solve the problems of the region.
Silber notes the US has unused capacity in higher education because of the decline in the birthrate.
''What better way to use foreign aid than if 100 universities took 100 students from that region. They need math and science and language teachers, sanitation engineers, farming technologists, paramedical professionals.''