"When U.S. policymakers talk about the dangers of outside interference in Central America, they refer to the Soviet Union and its proxies. When Central Americans talk about outside interference, they are talking about the Soviets, to be sure; but they are also talking about the United States." --Archbishop James A. Hickey

Archbishop James A. Hickey of Washington, last week criticized the tendency of U.S. policymakers to view conflict in Central America as "primarily a geo-political battle" between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Rather, he said in testimony before the Kissinger commission, "The conflict has been over land, wages, the right to organize and the issue of political participation. To ignore this long struggle of people for justice, dignity and freedom is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature of the conflict today in Central America."

Hickey, who is considered the point man for the U.S. Catholic hierarchy in its criticism of U.S. policy in Latin America, explained the church's position to the panel officially titled the National Commission on U.S. Policy in Central America.

In testimony given before this week's invasion of Grenada, Hickey, who is familiar with Central American conditions through his support of mission work there, sought to reflect the viewpoints of Catholic leaders in that region.

"What they oppose now more strongly than ever in the past," he said "is, in the words of the Central American bishops, 'the meddling of foreign powers who come to support those in the countries who fit their own interests which are generally far from, even opposed to, those of the great majority.' "

The churchman charged that it was "inconsistent" for the U.S. government to use "human rights criteria for tactical advantage or propaganda points rather than as a steady and consistent benchmark for governments in the region and our relationships with them."

He said that "selective application of human rights standards, depending on our ideological preference, erodes our credibility both at home and abroad."

Hickey said that in Nicaragua, "U.S. policy is contributing to the deteriorating internal situation" there by providing a pretext for increased government control.

Both as a citizen and as a religious leader, he said, "I find the use of U.S. tax dollars for the purpose of covert destabilization of a recognized government to be unwise, unjustified and destructive of the very values that a democratic nation should support in the world."

Hickey asserted that U.S. policy in Central America "neglects the root causes of the problems, strengthens the extremists of both right and left," and relies on military force rather than diplomatic creativity.

On the same issue, but in a separate action, the Church World Service Committee of the National Council of Churches has sent letters to all members of Congress expressing "profound consternation" over the suffering of civilians in Nicaragua caused by military attacks by U.S.-backed guerrilla forces, or "Contras."

The Rev. Dr. Paul F. McCleary, head of CWS, said the agency's concern grew out of the "economic pressures and stresses on the civilian population" that result from guerrilla attacks on oil refineries, food depots and ports.

"For the United States in any way to be supporting the Contras is extremely inappropriate," said McCleary, echoing the criticism Hickey made to the Kissinger commission, "and is directly counter to the principles for which we stand as a nation."