MORE AND MORE over the past two years I have heard North Americans in responsible positions speak of not caring whether the United States is loved, but whether it is feared; not whether it is admired for its cultural and political accomplishments, but respected for its material power; not whether the rights of others are respected, but its own strategic interests are defended.

These are inclinations that we have come to associate with the brutal diplomacy of the Soviet Union.

But the true friends of your great nation in Latin America -- we the admirers of your extraordinary achievements in literature, science and the arts and of your democratic institutions, of your Congress and your courts, your universities and publishing houses and your free press -- we will not permit you to conduct yourselves in Latin American affairs as the Soviet Union conducts itself in Central European and Central Asian affairs. You are not the Soviet Union.

We shall be the custodians of your own true interests by helping you to avoid these mistakes. We have memory on our side. You suffer too much from historical amnesia.

Your alliances will crumble and your security will be endangered if you do not demonstrate that you are an enlightened, responsible power in your dealings with Latin America.

Yes, you must demonstrate your humanity and your intelligence here in this house we share, our hemisphere -- or nowhere shall you be democratically credible.

The mistaken identification of change in Latin America as somehow manipulated by a Soviet conspiracy not only irritates the nationalism of the left. It also resurrects the nationalist fervors of the right -- where Latin American nationalism was born in the early 19th Century.

You have yet to feel the full force of this backlash, which reappeared in Argentina and the South Atlantic crisis last year, and in places such as El Salvador and Panama, Peru and Chile, Mexico and Brazil.

In the name of cultural identity, nationalism and international independence, a whole continent is capable of uniting against you. This should not happen.

The chance of avoiding this continental confrontation lies in negotiations. Before the United States has to negotiate with extreme cultural, nationalistic and internationalist pressures of both the left and the right in the remotest nations of this hemisphere, Chile and Argentina; in the largest nation, Brazil; and in the closest one, Mexico; it should rapidly negotiate in Central America and the Caribbean.

We consider in Mexico that each and every one of the points of conflict in the region can be solved diplomatically, through negotiations, before it is too late.

There is no fatality in politics that says: given a revolutionary movement in any country in the region, it will inevitably end up providing bases for the Soviet Union.

What happens between the daybreak of revolution in a marginal country and its imagined destiny as a Soviet base? If nothing happens but harassment, blockades, propaganda, pressures and invasions against the revolutionary country, then that prophecy will become self-fulfilling. But if power with historical memory and diplomacy with historical imagination can come into play, we, the United States and Latin America, might end up with something very different: A Latin America of independent states building institutions of stability, renewing the culture of national identity, diversifying our economic interdependence and wearing down the dogmas of two nasty 19th century philosophies.

The longer the situation of war lasts in Central America and the Caribbean, the more difficult it shall be to assure a political solution. The more difficult it will be for the Sandinistas to demonstrate good faith in their dealings with the issues of internal democracy, now brutally interrupted by a state of emergency imposed as a response to foreign pressures. The more difficult it will be for the civilian arm of the Salvadoran rebellion to maintain political initiative over the armed factions. The greater the irritation of Panama as it is used as a springboard for a North American war. The greater the danger of a generalized conflict, dragging in Costa Rica and Honduras.

Everything can be negotiated in Central America and the Caribbean before it is too late: Non-aggression pacts between each and every state; border patrols; the interdiction of passage of arms, wherever they may come from, and the interdiction of foreign military advisers, wherever they may come from; the reduction of all the armies in the region; the interdiction, now or ever, of Soviet bases or Soviet offensive capabilities in the area.

What would be the quid pro quo? Simply this: the respect of the United States -- respect for the integrity and autonomy of all the states in the region, including normalization of relations with all of them.

The problems of Cuba are Cuban and shall be so once more when the United States understands that by refusing to talk to Cuba on Cuba, it only weakens Cuba and the United States -- but strengthens the Soviet Union. The mistake of spurning Cuba's constant offers to negotiate whatever the United States wants to discuss frustrates the forces in Cuba desiring greater internal flexibility and international independence. Is Fidel Casto some sort of superior Machiavelli whom no gringo negotiator can meet at a bargaining table without being bamboozled by him? I don't believe it.

The problems of Nicaragua are Nicaraguan, but they will cease to be so if that country is deprived of all possibility for normal survival. Why is the United States so impatient with four years of Sandinismo when it was so tolerant of 45 years of Somocismo? Why is it so worried about free elections in Nicaragua, but so indifferent to free elections in Chile? How can we live together on the basis of such hypocrisy?

Nicaragua is being attacked and invaded by forces sponsored by the United States. It is being invaded by counterrevolutionary bands led by former commanders of Somoza's National Guard who are out to overthrow the Revolutionary Guard and reinstate the old tyranny. Who will stop them from doing so if they win? These are not freedom fighters. They are Benedict Arnolds.

Finally, the problems of El Salvador are Salvadoran. The Salvadoran rebellion did not originate and is not manipulated from outside El Salvador. To believe this is akin to crediting Soviet accusations that the Solidarity movement in Poland is somehow the creature of the United States. (The passage of arms from Nicaragua to El Salvador has not been proved: no arms have been intercepted.)

The conflict in El Salvador is the indigenous result of a process of political corruption that began in 1931 with the overthrow of the electoral results by the Army, and culminated in the electoral fraud of 1972, which deprived the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats of their victory and forced the sons of the middle class into armed insurrection. The Army had exhausted the electoral solution.

This Army continues to outwit everyone in El Salvador -- including the United States. It announces elections after assassinating the leadership of the opposition, then asks the opposition to come back and participate in these same hastily organized elections -- as dead souls, perhaps?

This Gogolian scenario means that truly free elections cannot be held in El Salvador as long as the Army and the death squads are unrestrained and fueled by American dollars. Nothing now assures Salvadorans that the Army and the death squads can either defeat the rebels or be controlled by political institutions.

It is precisely because of the nature of the Army that a political settlement must be reached in El Salvador promptly, not only to stop the horrendous death count, not only to restrain both the Army and the armed rebels, not only to assure the young people of the United States that they will not be doomed to repeat the horror and futility of Vietnam, but to reconstruct a political initiative of the center-left majority that must now reflect, nevertheless, the need for a restructured Army. El Salvador cannot be governed with such a heavy burden of crime.

The only other option is to transform the war in El Salvador into an American war. But why should a bad foreign policy be bipartisan?

The United States can no longer go it alone in Central America and the Caribbean. It cannot, in today's world, practice the anachronistic policies of the "Big Stick." If it does so, it will only achieve what it cannot truly want.

Many of our countries are struggling to cease being banana republics. They do not want to become balalaika republics. Do not force them to chose between appealing to the Soviet Union or capitulating to the United States.