IT IS ALWAYS good to see the president of Latin

America's premier democracy, and it was especially good to see Venezuelan President Luis Herrera Campins in Washington this week. His visit made a difference. He arrived in the wake of a flurry of administration mumbles to the effect that it might have to use force against El Salvador or Nicaragua or Cuba in order to bolster the American-supported junta's position in El Salvador. But by the time he had completed his talks, such military action appeared distinctly less possible. Venezuela also supports the junta, but it opposes any sort of military intervention. It is hard to conceive that the administration would be so desperate and foolhardy as to take the one step virtually certain to cost it the Latin political company most valuable to it.

President Herrera is not soft on guerrillas. Venezuela, a veteran of guerrilla wars, has its own ideas on how to fight them. For Venezuela, furthermore, the matter is not one of abstract geopolitics. Mr. Herrera, in refreshing contrast to the attitudes typically struck in Mexico, does not deny that the guerrilla infection and regional upheaval could reach his own country in time.

He backs his friend and fellow Christian Democrat, Salvadoran President Jos,e Napoleon Duarte. He realizes that Mr. Duarte needs army support, but he realizes, too, that the extreme right poses as great a menace as the extreme left. Therefore he would not only have the Duarte military junta fight the guerrillas. He would have Venezuela, the United States and others clearly encourage human rights. He sees a special requirement for Washington to disabuse El Salvador's oligarchic right, which resists the Duarte reforms, of any notion that the United States might sympathize with a coup. His policy, admittedly no sure thing, is to make the most of next year's elections and to work to provide guarantees and observers so that democratic opposition forces are drawn in.

The Venezuelans do not seem to think that negotiations engaging guerrillas on one side and the army on the other can provide much of a shortcut to a democratic order. This is the Mexican-French prescription. No stone should be left unturned: let the Mexicans and French keep looking for the formula that will start talks in El Salvador. Meanwhile, it is well worth the administration's while to moderate its own El Salvador policy in order to stay on the same road as Venezuela.