For the first time in eight consecutive Central American summits during the past four years, the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua are focusing on economic issues {news stories, June 18, 19 and 20}. We should applaud their long overdue insight. However, in an area where two-thirds of the people live in desperate poverty and a powerful elite have shown their willingness to use military and government force to retain their wealth, the poor have every reason to doubt any real change will occur.

As reporter Lee Hockstader pointed out: "Neither in the plan {of action} nor in the lengthier and more general Declaration of Antiqua was there any mention of land reform or suggestion of new government social welfare programs to help the poor." In fact, to quote a regional economist, the "idea is to help the poor without threatening the basic power structure." The basic power structure is made up of a privileged few who maintain a disproportionate wealth and power over the rest of society.

Are we seeing a true effort on the part of the five presidents to end oppression, or merely an end to military oppression and the beginning of economic oppression? Absent adequate safeguards for the human rights of the poor, unchecked pursuit of profit will eventually lead to worker exploitation. If the five presidents truly want to help the poor, enforceable laws are needed to protect workers in such areas as guaranteeing a decent wage, a safe work environment, employer compensation for job-related injuries, collective bargaining and the right to strike. Without safeguards, the presidents' plan amounts to little more than an economic rather than military plan to maintain the status quo. RICHARD A. HINDMAN Alexandria