If President Reagan hopes for support from Democratic presidential candidates for his policy on Central America, he should forget it.
All six announced Democratic hopefuls have criticized Reagan's policies in the region in interviews and public statements since his address to Congress last week. They accuse him of continuing to look toward a military solution to political and economic problems.
Sen. Gary Hart (Colo.) suggested that "after two years of harsh rhetoric, a willingness to see the best in repressive regimes and an emphasis on military solutions" it is too late for the kind of bipartisan support Reagan requested in the speech
Ohio Sen. John Glenn went further, charging Reagan with misleading the public about the situation in El Salvador.
Anyone listening to the nationally televised speech last Wednesday, Glenn said in an interview, "could come to only one conclusion: We must send in the Army and the Marines. To put the crisis in those terms overstates the dangers there."
Democratic front-runner and former vice president Walter F. Mondale said the speech was a "hopeful" one only if it represents "a fundamental change in policy," something he said he doubts. Otherwise, the former vice president said, the situation in El Salvador "will get worse and worse."
Only dark horse candidate Reubin Askew, a former governor of Florida, praised the address as a "good and balanced speech."
"It bothers me that so many parts of our foreign policy are becoming such partisan issues," Askew said in an interview. "Ronald Reagan is our president, after all."
Askew said he supports the president's request for additional economic and military aid for El Salvador. But, like fellow Democratic candidates, Askew said the aid should be contingent on major economic and human-rights reforms there.
Unless such reforms are made, he said, the Salvadoran government cannot hope to gain the popular support necessary for its survival.
That view was the most common thread in Democratic presidential candidates' criticism of Reagan's speech and his Central American policy last week.
Glenn, according to aides, intends to introduce an amendment to make all future aid to El Salvador depend on reforms there, a move that apparently would be supported by the three other Democratic hopefuls in the Senate.
And Hart said the conditions put on aid to El Salvador should include free elections, "steady progress on land reform, a sharp improvement in the judiciary and an end to uncontrolled violence on the part of government forces."
Meanwhile, California Sen. Alan Cranston said, "Unless the government in El Salvador shapes up and starts granting human and economic rights and opportunities, there is no way to prop up that government, and we should make it unmistakably clear . . . we will wash our hands of their struggle because it is a hopeless struggle. We're pouring money down a rat hole."
Similarly, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.) said, "You can't solve the kind of problems we have in Central America by throwing in more military dollars. The root problems in El Salvador and the region are internal, not external. They're economic. They're social. And they're political.
"Our responsibility is to foster moderation, understanding, peace and economic viability," Hollings added.
The nomination of Richard B. Stone, a former Democratic senator from Florida, to be Reagan's special envoy to Central America has divided the Democratic presidential hopefuls who will have to vote on his confirmation.
Glenn, who formerly sat beside Stone on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the selection. He and Hollings are expected to vote for confirmation. A spokesman said Hart intends to vote against confirmation.
Although Cranston has privately expressed misgivings about Stone's ties to right-wing forces in Guatemala, he is undecided. Stone served the Guatemalan government as a lobbyist.
All of the candidates express concern about growing communist influence in Central America.
Askew said, "You can't live in Miami and not appreciate the realities of the communist threat to the region."
"There's no question that the communists in times like these like to fish in troubled waters," Mondale said.
What would the Democrats do differently in Central America?
Their answers indicated that all would apparently look at the region's right-wing governments with far greater skepticism than does the Reagan administration. They would also press for negotiations and major economic and political reforms in El Salvador.
Beyond that, there is no clear agreement on a plan of action. Askew and Hollings, for example, support Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Cranston proposed "a large-scale Marshall Plan" to "assure that democracies in the region can meet the needs of their people" and ensure that "there will not be any domino effect, any spreading of communism throughout Central America."
He said the United States has positioned itself on the wrong side of the human-rights issue. "It turns out the communists are helping those who started to fight for human rights, and we are helping those who have been denying human rights," he said.
Mondale, too, said more attention should be given to economic assistance.
"We've got to restore hope. We've got to try to get a cease-fire in El Salvador. We've got to broaden the middle ground that believes in stability," he said at a news conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Tension and violence were decreasing in Central America when President Carter left office, according to Mondale. "We were making progress," he said.
Mondale said that Reagan threw Carter's human-rights policies into "the ash can. He said, 'We're going to draw a line in the sand, and we're going to beat the Russians in Central America' . . . . Things have gotten worse every day since."