Latin America's quiet support for US intervention in Grenada

At least one Latin America president has quietly let Washington know that, contrary to his public statements, he supports United States intervention in Grenada.

''It had to be done,'' he says. ''The growing presence of Cuban troops and arms, the utter chaos of the island's government, and the whole threat to the peace demanded action.''

But this hemisphere leader is not prepared to go public with this view - due largely to domestic political considerations which demand what he calls ''an anti-American stand.''

A number of other Latin American leaders are in the same bind. Non-intervention is a cardinal point in hemisphere diplomacy and many Latin Americans smart when they recall earlier US interventions in the Caribbean, Central America, and elsewhere.

This time, however, many of these leaders tend to believe that the US intervention was the least objectionable solution - that to have refrained from intervention might have had disastrous consequences not only for Grenada, but also for the Caribbean as a whole and even for the rest of the hemisphere.

That, of course, is the view expressed by most of the leaders of the eastern Caribbean. Prime ministers Edward P. G. Seaga of Jamaica and John M. G. (''Tom'') Adams of Barbados, whose forces are on Grenada along with those of the US, are naturally supportive. They asked the US to intervene.

But even in the Domnican Republic, which underwent a US intervention in 1965, there has been guarded support and ''understanding,'' as one Dominican spokesman phrased it, of the US action in Grenada.

This Caribbean attitude helps explain why the Organization of American States (OAS) has been slow to condemn or take any action on the intervention.

In the Caribbean, moreover, there has been support for the US action from key opinion molders.

Influential newspaper editors in the region, for example, have quickly swung around to support the American move. At the recent Inter-American Press Association meeting in Lima, Peru, there was virtually unamimous backing by Caribbean editors for the combined US-Caribbean invasion of Grenada.

Mark A. Conyers, managing director of The Trinidad Guardian of Port of Spain, said flatly: ''I thoroughly agree with the forces' landing. You have to protect Caribbean democracy. There must be an elected government in Grenada and this landing should help bring that about.''

Oliver P. Clarke, managing director of The Daily Gleaner of Kingston, Jamaica , said, however, the major problem now is ''how quickly Grenada can return to being a democratic society and one that is governed by itself.''

Both Aruba and Curacao editors went along with these views as did German E. Ornes, editor and publishers of El Caribe of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

''Of course, intervention is not a very nice thing,'' he said, ''but the Dominican experience had a happy ending - and I hope the same for Grenada.''

The 1965 US intervention in the Dominican Republic was roundly condemned at the time and used by many Latin American politicians as a prime case of US interference in the internal affairs of the hemisphere. But Mr. Ornes noted that the results of the intervention with the building of a strong democracy in the island nation was quite the opposite of what many predicted at the time.

That may help explain the guarded support the Grenada intervention has among some Dominicans.

Elsewhere in the hemisphere, while there may not be the same measure of support for the US action as is evidenced in the Caribbean, there tends to be a less than total rejection of the US action.

Indeed, despite critical presidential pronouncements, foreign ministry protests, legislative votes, and press comment against the intervention, US diplomats have been told privately by some of these groups that Washington should not take the adverse reaction in Latin America too seriously.

''We have to protest,'' one foreign minister said. ''If we did not, we would not be true to non-intervention. And of course we have to let the US know that we will not permit other interventions if it is thinking of others.

''Still, this one is understandable. And I cannot overlook the fact that Caribbean islands not only joined the intervention but also asked the US for it.''

It is this point that Latin American diplomats say has kept the OAS from roundly attacking the US for the action.

''(Dominica Prime Minister) Eugenia Charles,'' said another foreign minister, ''is most persuasive in her arguments in favor of intervention.

''And after all, while Grenada is part of the inter-American system, it is also an English-speaking island, composed largely of black people whose culture is quite different from that of the rest of Latin America.''

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