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Venezuelan assist

More than any other foreign policy objective, Venezuelan President-elect Jaime Lusinchi wants to bring peace to Central America. This was a key issue in his presidential campaign, which ended in his electoral sweep in Sunday's vote. Even before he takes office next year, Mr. Lusinchi will begin actively pushing for progress on a negotiated settlement to Central America's conflicts, which he feels threaten peace throughout the hemisphere. For one thing, he wants to broaden the goals of the four-nation Contadora initiative, of which Venezuela is a member, to bring democracy not only to El Salvador and Nicaragua, but also to Guatemala and Honduras.

Mr. Lusinchi's goals are welcome. They could help in getting Washington and Managua to scale down the esclating war of words and bullets in Central America. Mr. Lusinchi has credibility in both camps. He says the Sandinistas have not fully honored their promises of political pluralism and nonalignment, arguing as well that the United States has taken too interventionist a role in the region. He will bring up these points when former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger visits Caracas later this month as head of President Reagan's special commission on Central America.

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Moreover, Nicaragua can be expected to pay attention to Mr. Lusinchi and his Accion Democratica Party. The President-elect is a protege of the party's longtime leader and former President, Carlos Andres Perez, who was an ardent supporter of the Sandinista cause during his presidency. The Lusinchi election comes as Nicaragua appears to soften its stance on relations with the US and offers more, albeit still limited, democratic overtures to its opposition at home.

But he feels the Sandinistas must make more progress in bringing democracy to their country. He has no illusions, however, that this will come easily or quickly.

At home, the Lusinchi presidency will be faced with the nation's most serious economic crisis in 50 years. Venezuela is in a deep recession. Its oil-fueled economy lags far behind national needs. The country has a $34 billion foreign debt, two-thirds of which needs to be renegotiated in 1984.

There is no way Venezuela can generate enough foreign-exchange earnings to pay off even half the 1984 bill. For the past year, the outgoing government of Luis Herrera Campins has declared three successive three-month debt payment moratoriums because it could not pay 1983 debts. This, in turn, has given Venezuela a poor reputation in international lending markets. Mr. Lusinchi will need to act fast to restore his national credibility in this area.

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