One of Secretary of State George Shultz's most important tasks during this week's trip to Latin America is to deliver a clear message to authoritarian Central American governments: end right-wing terrorism.
Reagan administration officials have said it before, notably Vice-President George Bush in El Salvador last year. But other administration statements and actions may have confused the message, making it easier for authoritarian governments to rationalize that no major change was really needed.
From this point onward the message must be both insistent and consistent. Right-wing death squads, principally in El Salvador but also in Guatemala, are losing for their governments the support of two vital groups of people: their own residents, and citizens of the United States.
Hanging in the balance in the US now is whether Congress and the American public will support the Kissinger commission request for major increases in economic and military aid to Central America. For this backing to occur, Salvadorean leaders first must rein in the death squads, which may result in congressional and public confidence that terrorism from the right in fact has dropped.
Not all Central American terrorism comes from the right, of course. As one example, leftist guerrillas have claimed responsibility for the assassination late last week of a right-wing Salvadorean legislator.
But most experts say the bulk of the terrorist abductions and killings are by the right. Mr. Shultz's plans to deliver a stern message are one good step. Needed thereafter is a firm and constant US insistence that this terrorism be ended.