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Latin American nations take exception to US policy in region

A growing polarity between the United States and Latin America was apparent at this week's meeting here of the Organization of American States. The tone for the 16th session of the OAS, scheduled to end today, was set at the outset in the opening speech of Guatemala's President Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo. In thundering oratory, President Cerezo declared that Guatemala ``would be a partner but not the instrument of American foreign policy.''

The week of deliberations on regional issues - ranging from Central America to the Latin debt burden - were often characterized by sharp policy differences between the US and delegations from Latin America and the Caribbean. This was evident in bold speeches before the General Assembly and in a current of tension that ran through impromptu delegate meetings in the elegant lobby of the El Dorado Hotel.

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Established in 1948, the OAS had as its goal the cementing of political and economic cooperation between the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In subsequent years, the 31-member group rubberstamped US regional policy by supporting the 1954 US Central Intelligence Agency-backed overthrow of the Guatemalan government and the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. The OAS expelled Cuba in 1962, endorsed an economic blockade of Cuba, and backed the 1965 US occupation of the Dominican Republic.

``Every time the US has taken action in Latin America it has used the OAS as a fig leaf - to legitimize and provide a cover for its own security needs,'' according to the former director of the Washington Office on Latin America Joseph Eldridge.

``The OAS is no longer an organization for the management of regional policy of the US,'' Brazilian delegate Bernardo Neto said.

A senior Western diplomat with observer status noted, ``for the Americans it is now just a question of keeping a lid on things. There is strong resentment of US domination of the Organization.''

The differences between the North American and Latin delegations were clearest over US backing for the anti-Sandinista contras. On Monday, Peru's ambassador, Luis Posada, demanded of the Assembly, ``How do we deal with an OAS member who finances, trains, and arms an irregular army to attack another member of the organization?'' Mr. Posada reminded delegates that nonintervention in the affairs of member states was fundamental to the OAS charter, and warned that without the defense of international law ``our world will collapse into war.''

A high-level Brazilian delegate sided with Posada, saying that a majority of Latin delegates opposed US policy in Central America. ``The US has a peculiar theory of international law. They think that once a law is passed in the US it applies internationally. That reminds me of the Roman Empire,'' the delegate said.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State George Shultz said that it was the Soviets who were intervening regionally. He accused them of helping Nicaragua build the largest military establishment in Central America's history. Peace would not come to the region, he said, ``until this massive growth and armament is constrained and ultimately eliminated.''

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Brazil's Bernardo Neto disagreed. ``Instability in Central America comes from a long way back. Soviet arms are not the main reason. There are no innocent players in Central America.''

There was disagreement on the solution of the Latin debt problem. US policy has been to reschedule debt payments case-by-case. But Mexico, Chile, and Brazil declared repayment was now a political issue, not an accounting problem. --30--{et

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