To look about Latin America is to realize that the Arias plan for peace and democracy in Central America has to do with much more than the fate of a single region, important as that is. The plan also offers a potential cure to the great Latin political disease of complaining constantly about U.S. interventionist tendencies, real and suspected, while doing next to nothing to treat the cares that U.S. intervention might address.
In Chile and Paraguay, Haiti and Panama, for instance, despots of different stripes stand athwart progress toward democracy, the idea of the age. But when a concern arises that Americans are committing or contemplating some form of intervention to repair one of these situations, the Latins cry out against it: they cried out against U.S. intervention in Grenada even though the great bulk of the people supposedly being victimized there turned out to be deliriously grateful for it.
One understands. American intervention is identified in Latin minds with some indubitably bad cases, it steals their manhood, and objections to it sell in the political marketplace. But there is a substantial and unacknowledged cost to imposing ideological purity in the name of nonintervention and self-determination. It comforts local tyranny and protects corruption.
This is why the Arias example, successful or not, is encouraging. It goes beyond an embrace of the common aversion to American intervention and offers something in its place: a scheme of Latin appeals and pressures to achieve peacefully the goal of democracy that the United States pursues through the contras. In most places where Latins rise up against the deed or specter of intervention, they take no responsibility for developing an alternative of their own.
It may be something of an accident that there is a Central American alternative at all. My guess is that it emerges in some good part from the Latins' embarrassment at having been bamboozled by the Sandinistas, whom they assisted to power and who then turned around and started imposing a more alien and sinister model of the old Somoza dictatorship.
But never mind. Why not take the Arias initiative in Central America as the sign of a welcome Latin coming of age? There is no shortage in the hemisphere of places where a terrible political situation exists, where U.S. pressure is unworkable or not working and where some form of Latin pressure or intervention could be extremely helpful:
Chile, Paraguay. The United States is pushing -- politically -- for democratization of these countries with a good deal more evident vigor and concern than are most of the Latin democracies, who live with the offenders and often seem content to hope that their example will prove a sufficient prod to change.
Haiti. The Latins convey the impression they could scarcely care less if Haiti failed to make a democratic turn. When, last November, some non-Latin friends of Haiti began to express an entirely selfless interest in the country's post-Duvalier transition, the Organization of American States actually issued a formal warning ''not to intervene, directly or indirectly,'' in its internal affairs -- a resolution aptly termed, by a veteran American OAS official, ''carte blanche for murderers and thugs.''
Panama. Dimly seen efforts continue to find a way to ease out Gen. Noriega, but the Latins' attitude seems completely head-in-the-sand. Last summer at the OAS, for instance, they allowed themselves to be manipulated by this flouter of the Panamanian democratic will, this creature of the drug cartel, into condemning the United States, whose offense had been to support democratic strivings in the streetsof Panama and to attempt to deal witha drug problem that has stagger-ing dimensions within Latin America itself.
The Arias plan suggests that there is a point of crisis at which American intervention becomes politically unbearable and Latins become capable of acting. But why wait for the unbearable? Latin America needs to move beyond sterile slogans of anti-interventionism, which rest on tacit appeals to anti-Americanism. It needs to consider the uses of collective preemption -- first of all in the sphere of diplomacy and political action -- to deal with the situations in the hemisphere where liberty is denied and explosion may loom.