A recent spring day found Jose Sueiro busy collecting payments for the advertisements in his newspaper, Latino, a Spanish-language tabloid published here monthly. Later, he would write one of the issue's lead articles and translate another from English. Then, with his wife, graphic designer Teresa Ghiglino, he would sort photographs and lay out the paper before taking it to a printer in Maryland.

Then there would remain the task of delivering the 10,000 copies to more than 250 distribution points in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Sueiro is editor, writer, publisher and distributor of one of the three Spanish-language newspapers published in the Washington area. His competition is El Pregonero, produced fortnightly by the Hispanic Catholic Center, and El Barrio, produced on a more irregular basis by the Latin American Youth Center, an Adams-Morgan-based community organization.

The three are similar in format (tabloid), circulation (10,000) and distribution area (the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods around Adams-Morgan, Arlington and Takoma Park). But they are as varied in style and viewpoint as are the estimated 60,000 to 140,000 members of Washington's Latino community, one of the most diverse and fastest growing in the United States.

Several Spanish-language publications have been launched in the metropolitan area over the last decade, but only a few have survived. Six years ago, El Pregonero published its first issue, followed shortly by Latino. Last year, El Barrio joined the fray. Today, there appears to be room for all.

A large majority of the Spanish-speaking community's members are recent arrivals who speak little English. Many come from El Salvador and other Central American countries.

Latinos have very specific needs--for immigration lawyers, for doctors and for businesses providing specialized services in their own language. They look for them in the ads carried by all three papers. Columns on immigration issues and health are the other features with high appeal to readers.

Washington's Latino newspapers vie for the readership of the new arrivals, many of them poor rural and urban workers looking for a new life abroad, and of the older Cuban community, traditionally conservative and more economically prosperous. The political opinions of the community are split, and so are the editorial views of the papers.

El Barrio is a fervent supporter of Nicaragua's Sandinista regime, while Latino frequently carries editorials attacking it. Latino regularly covers social events. El Pregonero and El Barrio pointedly ignore the community's weddings and cocktail parties.

Whatever their politics, the majority of Latinos are deeply religious, and the Catholic Pregonero, distributed at church services and agencies, has what may be the most guaranteed readership of the three.

"We distribute in 17 churches that say Mass in Spanish," said Pregonero's director, Bolivian-born Enrique Eduardo. "And in Latino businesses, stores and restaurants. We have 3,000 subscribers by far the highest of the three papers and publish fortnightly."

El Pregonero's articles reflect the overwhelming concern of both the Latino community and the Roman Catholic Church with the turmoil in Central America. A recent issue carried a front-page story on President Reagan's speech to Congress on Central America. An editorial quoted the Catholic Bishops' Conference call for peaceful negotiations among all parties in the region. Several pages later, a story reported on the visit of Salvadoran opposition leader Guillermo Ungo and his call for negotiations.

The paper only asks for "enough local advertisements to help defray costs," Eduardo said.

Of the three publications, Latino makes the most consistent effort to provide comprehensive coverage, and Sueiro's declared ambition is to make it a commercial success.

"This paper has grown because of the elbow grease we've put into it," said Sueiro, a man of irrepressible friendliness and impressive energy.

"But we've also grown because Hispanics are coming out of the closet. There's more of them every day willing to recognize themselves as part of the community."

He fetched an old issue of Latino from the small all-purpose office in his Adams-Morgan apartment. "Look, we didn't have any doctors advertising in this issue; now they're some of our most important clients," he said. He noted that the paper has been approached by McDoanlds.

Sueiro is a New Yorker of Spanish descent, who in his spare time referees soccer and football games and hosts an Afro-Caribbean music program on WPFW radio.

"It's important for a significant minority to be represented by newspapers in the capital of the most powerful country in the world," he said. "Now that's a highfalutin concept, but the reality is that there's a quarter of a million Latinos in the metropolitan area. That community deserves a voice. And it's a business."

Readers pick up the current issue of Latino free at their local Hispanic market or receive it inside the subscription copies of Latin American newspapers distributed to embassies here.

The current issue has a front-page essay by Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.) on U.S. policy in Latin America, a report on Ecuadorian president Oswaldo Hurtado's visit to Washington and a story on a recent visit to the District by Latin America's most famous comedian, Mario Moreno, better known as "Cantinflas."

Readers seeking political passion may turn to El Barrio, either to share its intensely held views or to pour invective on it. El Barrio is collectively written and produced by a group of staffers at the Latin American Youth Center. It is a paper with a purpose and little space for stories on the visit of a famous Mexican comedian or other local events.

"We started El Barrio because we wanted to create an alternative to papers that are either conservative or subject to commercial conditions," said Carlos Arrien, a Bolivian graphic artist who is largely responsible for putting together the visually attractive paper. He usually speaks quietly and carefully but at times becomes fervent.

"We want to orient people about what it means to be a Latino in the United States; we want to present an image of what is happening in our own countries to counteract the official versions; we want to help create a coherent identity for the community," he said recently in the youth center's Irving Street NW offices.

The paper relies on the enthusiasm of volunteers outside the center to provide articles on Latin American events, but, as Arrien ruefully admits, they lack reportorial self-confidence and street savvy.

Still, among younger Latinos--and especially among an increasing Salvadoran population disaffected by its government's policies--the paper is slowly building a readership.

Like Sueiro at Latino and Enrique at El Pregonero, Arrien is full of plans. "We want to train a nonprofessional corps of people from the community so they can write about what is happening here. We have to use more of the photographers working in the youth center's oral history project. We need to regularize our production schedule," he said. "We are a nation in this country. We have to write about that fact."