Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez was misquoted in an interview published in Monday's editions as confirming that Salvadoran Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia had had contacts with Cuban officials. Rodriguez, according to a Cuban spokesman yesterday, has no knowledge of any such contacts.
The outcome of the Falklands crisis appears to be a net loss for both Latin America and the United States--the former having supported Argentina's lost cause and the latter having severely strained its own ties with Latin friends. But one country in the hemisphere claims to have come out a winner.
According to Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the crisis has forged "a new relationship among the countries of Latin America," in which U.S. influence will be curtailed and Cuba's long isolation in the region will begin to lessen.
There already have been tangible results, Rodriguez said. Argentina's stridently anticommunist junta warmly welcomed Cuban and Nicaraguan backing for its actions in the Falklands and sent its foreign minister to Havana for a public embrace with Fidel Castro.
More importantly, Rodriguez said, Argentina several weeks ago withdrew nearly 200 military trainers from Central America, where they reportedly had been assisting U.S. advisers in training commando forces for raids against Nicaragua's Cuban-backed leftist government. The administration has charged both Nicaragua and Cuba with aiding guerrillas in El Salvador, although both the United States and Argentina have denied or refused to comment on the training reports.
During an hour-long interview at the Cuban mission to the United Nations, where he had come to address the special session on disarmament, Rodriguez touched on a wide range of subjects, including war in Central America, tightening U.S. economic pressure against Havana and Soviet relations with Latin America.
He repeated Cuban insistence that it has not shipped any arms to the Salvadoran guerrillas for more than a year and said that an incipient high-level dialogue between Cuba and the United States appears to have come to an end.
That dialogue began in November, when Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. traveled to Mexico for a secret meeting with Rodriguez. It was followed by a visit of Haig's special assistant Vernon Walters in March to Havana, where he met for several hours with Castro and Rodriguez.
There has been no contact since then, a fact Rodriguez attributed to a U.S. belief that elections in El Salvador and renewed military action against leftist guerrillas there had eliminated the need for talks with Cuba or negotiations with the Central American left. In the meantime, the administration has tightened the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
"Evidently, the United States has reached the erroneous conclusion--which they will soon have to change--that the entire situation altered in El Salvador following the elections . . . that the Salvadoran guerrilla movement was liquidated, and therefore they could pressure Nicaragua with holding talks . . . and did not need any relations with Cuba."
The situation in El Salvador "has changed," Rodriguez said, "but to the disadvantage of the United States."
Rightist gains in El Salvador's March elections "on the contrary have aggravated the situation," he said. But more significant, he said, are recent large-scale clashes in El Salvador's Morazan province, a longtime guerrilla stronghold where a massive government offensive has made little progress.
Although he said that Cuba has not sent arms to the Salvadoran guerrillas "for about 15 or 16 months now"--an assertion disputed by the Reagan administration--Rodriguez noted that the Cubans have made no commitment not to do so.
The Salvadorans are still "getting arms" from elsewhere, he said, "but not at a very intensive level. They have enough arms for a long time, and they are in a solid position."
Salvadoran leftist sources said recently that weapons shipments are coming into the country primarily across Honduras. But these sources said that large stores had been built up in rebel-controlled areas inside the country in anticipation of increased pressure from U.S.- and Argentine-trained military forces in neighboring Honduras to stop the flow of arms.
Asked whether he felt the situation in El Salvador would again require direct Cuban assistance, Rodriguez said, "I don't think this situation will arise, because I believe the guerrillas are in a position" to force a change in the military balance in the country "in the very near future." When they begin to act, he said, "I think that the road to negotiations will be open again."
Although he said the United States has rejected negotiations between the Salvadoran government and the guerrillas, Rodriguez said contacts have been made outside the U.S. framework. He said that, in addition to recently reported contacts between Salvadoran rightist leader Roberto D'Aubuisson and Panamanian President Aristides Royo on behalf of the guerrillas, D'Aubuisson has met in Panama with guerrilla representatives.
He also confirmed reports from Salvadoran leftist sources that contacts had been established between Cuba and Salvadoran Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia. Although he claimed no substantial progress in these talks, Rodriguez said they meant that the Salvadoran right and the military there "feel the need to move in another direction . . . they want to look for some basis of agreement before any public negotiations."
Salvadoran leftist sources have reported strong Cuban pressure to negotiate with the government there rather than press for a military victory. These sources say that Cuba has not renounced hopes of creating a socialist state in El Salvador, but rather that it believes current circumstances indicate faster gains in that direction through an interim democratic solution.
Rodriguez dismissed administration assertions that the Soviet Union, through Cuba, is directing revolution in Central America, charging that President Reagan "evidently is ignorant of history.
"Perhaps he thinks that what has happened in El Salvador--something that started 50 years ago when the Soviet Union didn't even know Latin America existed--could have originated in decisions taken between the Soviet Union and Cuba," he said.
"The Soviet Union," Rodriguez maintained, "has no involvement other than an ideological relationship with the communist parties of the region--the majority of which have been relatively weak parties in relationship to other local organizations. And the Salvadoran Communist Party is a small part of the guerrilla forces--along with the social democrats, the social Christians, other leftist forces who are not communists even though they call themselves Marxists."
Events in Central America, Rodriguez said, "are very important to the Soviet Union. I think that the Soviet Union and its leaders would be very happy if a leftist, radical democratic process arose in El Salvador. I don't think it would disgust them if there were socialism in El Salvador--it would be foolish to think otherwise. But at the same time, I think that the Soviet Union would like nothing less than to allow the problems of Central America to interfere with its long-term relationship with the United States."
As for Cuba itself, he said, "We naturally would like it if all of Latin America were socialist. We would not be communists if we did not think so. And we are communists. Not only Latin America, we would like it if all of Europe were socialist. That's obvious.
"But wishing that Europe were socialist does not mean that we are going to start promoting upheaval, as we were accused by some of doing in France in 1968. It's ridiculous."
Referring to the situation in Latin America, Rodriguez said, "If we see the possibility of making a socialist revolution some place . . . it would be very important, well, we would be happy. And we would help within our modest resources."
Cuba, he implied, has categorized Latin America into those countries of greater and lesser possibilities. "Of course we are interested in communism in Argentina, but we know that Argentina will not be communist today, nor tomorrow, nor the day after tomorrow."
In the meantime, Cuba believes it can make gains of another kind with countries like Argentina.
With the ouster of former president Leopoldo Galtieri, Rodriguez said, "There is a new political relationship in Argentina that affects not only the military government but the entire situation there. And it is clear that not all the forces in Argentina have the same fear of us, because the alliance of the Radicals, the Peronists and the leftist forces, as soon as they are integrated into Argentine political life, will introduce a change in our relations."
After following the U.S. lead in breaking relations with Cuba following Castro's 1959 takeover, a number of Latin American countries reestablished ties in the 1970s. In the past two years, however, ties with many of those countries became newly strained as Cuba increased its activities in Central America and the Reagan administration signaled its displeasure.
That is a situation Cuba sees changing overall, Rodriguez said, now that the Falklands crisis, and U.S. support of Britain against Argentina, have shown Latin Americans the "absurdity" of trying to maintain ties with the United States and Europe at the expense of Latin American unity.
In the short term, Cuba hopes to gain economic, as well as political advantage following the crisis with increased "political and economic interchange" with countries like Venezuela, until now a U.S. ally in Central America that has had a number of difficulties with Cuba.