The idea of publishing a Spanish-language newspaper for the Washington area's Hispanos -- variously estimated at 150,000 to 300,000 people -- is hardly new.

But the list of Spanish-language publications that have tried and failed to overcome the grim realities of newspaper economics in the past 10 years includes the now-defunct Critica, The Columbian, Presencia, El Pregonero and many more.

Even those odds, however, have not stopped Peruvian-born Luis Sanchez, 30, an Interamerican Development Bank messenger. His is a one-man show.

Sanchez came to Washington in 1976 and used his first $72 plus a $53 loan from a friend to launch the monthly Latino newspaper inj June 1977.

He borrowed a room at 18th and Columbia NW, set up a typewriter and went to work.

"You might say Latino is my life," said Sanchez. "I spend all my free time on it. Every single minute I'm not working at the bank."

Sanchez avoided one major problem -- the need for a sales and distribution staff -- with his unusual organization.

In exchange for placing large paid advertisements, Hispanic businesses and stores throughout the metropolitan area distribute the newspaper free of charge to their clients and customers.

The scheme works -- just barely. Latino, which has increased its press run from 1,000 to 8,000 in less than three years, was launched as a biweekly but in late 1977 switched to a monthly publication schedule when Sanchez was forced to take another job to survive.

"This newspaper is really a challenge to me," said Sanchez who worked as a journalist in Lima for eight years before coming to the United States. "I guess I go on with it because someday I'd like to earn a living doing what I enjoy. But I've still never been able to make a cent from Latino."

The eight-page offset newspaper is produced mainly by Sanchez with volunteer help from other members of the Hispanic community. The paper concentrates on features about community problems or figures in the entertainment world.

It also provides useful information for the community, such as the only complete listing available of all area Spanish-language radio and TV broadcasts.

Sanchez says each issue is a struggle -- to round up advertising, to write articles, to take photographs, to lay out the issue, to correct page proofs.

"But I'm going to keep fighting," he said.

Latino has found no way around one basic problem, however, The monthly format makes it impossible for the newspaper to provide the daily communications link that Washington-area Hispanic leaders say the community so desperately needs.

That is precisely what Argentine-born Lili Packer, who has lived in this country for 23 years and is now a U.S. citizen, intends to provide with El Diario de Washington.

Here is an entirely different approach. She took an intitial investment of a quarter of a million dollars, a small group of dedicated people and ambitious plans for local editions in other cities around the country, and is producing a 16- to 24-page Spanish-language daily.

"Diario de las Americas (of Miami) and El Diario-La Prensa (of New York) can't begin to keep our local community or any other local community well informed. Washington and other cities need their own publications," said Packer, president of the recently formed International Communications Group, Inc.

Packer's scheme is deceptively simple and sweepingly broad: In New York, International Communications puts together eight or 12 newspaper pages, primarily from international wire service copy of interest to Hispanos, and transmits those pages to other communities where an additional four or eight pages of local news are added before printing. International Communications already has had inquires from groups interested in putting out local editions in Toronto, Boston and Chicago.

A daily New York edition, called El Correo de Nueva York, was launched April 1, and D.C.'s daily El Diario de Washington appeared May 2. Due to equipment problems, the Washington edition will be printed temporarily in New York -- where Chilean-born editor-publisher Raul Valdivia is in charge -- and shipped to Washington by train. El Diario de Washington is sold mornings at 25 cents a copy at newsstands throughout the area.

The 24-page El Correo de Nueva York already has increased its press run from 5,000 to 10,000. El Diario de Washington began with a press run of 10,000 but with a scaled-down eight pages that will rise to 16 when expanded to include the local news section that Felipe Garcia, a Puetro Rican who works at Housing and Urban Development, will produce.

"We will have a great many people working and helping out locally," said Lili Packer. "The local community in each place we put out an edition must help us get their news in the paper. We desperately want the local community to be involved."

Among those already working locally are Juan Leo Salazar, 25, a Peruvian who studies economics at George Washington University and coordinates soccer instruction for Washington-area YMCAs. Salazar is handling sports reporting for El Diario de Washington -- and selling ads.

"For the moment, we are all doing a little bit of everything," said Packer.

"We will be able to hire more personnel when advertising stabilizes, especially when the classified advertising section is really functioning.

"The (Hispanic) community really needs this newspaper to find out what's going on here and what's going on back in whatever countries they may have left. But everybody is going to have to pitch in. I can't do it all by myself."