Argentine censors, it is said, once cut from a biographical film a scene in which the great natinal hero of the independence struggle, Gen. Jose San Martin, kissed his wife good-bye before riding off to battle. Such a display was reportedly considered unseemly.

While people and societies all around the world have shown a capacity for doublethink - behaving one way while believing the opposite - the technique seems to have been raised to an art in Latin America, where governments preach human rights while torturing, attack poverty through programs so convoluted that only the rich can make it through the bureaucracy, and exist in states of siege declared by defenders of trust, love and peace who must live surrounded by guards.

Magazine spreads feature elegant rooms appointed for clandestine dalliances - a tented "Arab" room, a "space-ship" room, another covered entirely in fur - but seldom tell their readers about ordinary people's lives.

Some residents of Caracas, Venezuela, profess not to believe that their country has much poverty, although the government estimates that fully half the population is desperately poor.

Although abortion is universally banned and the Catholic pulpits and governments that want to populate empty rural areas condemn birth control, both measures are available with little trouble. An American woman who had abortions both here and in a legal clinic in the United States described the procedures as equally clean and efficient. "The only difference was that here I got no lectures," she said.

And the people seem to choose their leaders for their ability to withstand reality, to rise repeatedly out of scandal and open mismanagement.

Ecuadorean dictator Jose M. Velasco Ibarra was elected president five times - he says six - and overthrown four times as incompetent. Now 82 and in exile, he is still reckoned a political force in Ecuador.

Perhaps the best example is Juan D. Peron, the late Argentine dictator. His watchword, "Argentina Potencia," combined power, potency and potential into one magnetic dream. His economic policies nearly bankrupted the country twice. His name continues to be legend.