Former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state Dean Rusk agreed yesterday that the United States must make a long-term effort to help Central America with economic and social problems to gain peace in the region and that as much international support as possible should be mustered.

Henry A. Kissinger, chairman of the special commission on Central America that is charged with recommending a long-term policy for the region, said after hearing Rusk and Carter in the panel's second full day of testimony that the 12-member group will divide into smaller units for its travels in the area next month. He said there are no plans to visit Cuba.

After testifying for two hours, Carter told reporters that he agrees with "the general consensus in this country that our nation should act to prevent the export of . . . communist subversion from Nicaragua and that we should support the government of El Salvador."

However, he said, "We should pursue aggressively the alleviation of economic and social suffering and the enhancement of human rights which I think is the best way to win the goals." His was the first mention of human rights by anyone reporting on commission proceedings.

Carter advocated "a very clear delineation of our goals" in the region and close consultation with the four-nation Contadora group trying to mediate among disputing groups there.

Rusk said he urged the commission "to broaden the base of concern in the hemisphere" about Central American affairs in order to avoid U.S. isolation and added that "a continued effort over a long period of time to assist these countries in their economic and social difficulties . . . is fundamental in the long run."

Sol Linowitz, who negotiated the Panama Canal treaties for Carter, told the commission earlier yesterday that the Central America situation is "essentially an economic and social problem which happens to have a military dimension."

He criticized Reagan administration backing for rebels trying to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua, saying, "It does not serve America's interests to undertake intervention in any country, covert or overt, which threatens that government."

Also testifying was William P. Rogers, who was secretary of state under President Nixon and resigned in frustration over the foreign policy role of then national security affairs adviser Kissinger. Kissinger then replaced Rogers.

Kissinger recalled that period with something very close to an apology. "We all remember with gratitude how Rogers served here with dignity and honor in trying times, and I'm afraid I sometimes added to his trials, for which I'm not always proud," Kissinger said.

Rogers confined his remarks to saying that the commission's report, expected next February, "can be very helpful to the conduct of our foreign policy in Central America."

Kissinger said that those who have testified so far have agreed only "that we have an obligation to exert ourselves to come up with a common position."

At the suggestion of San Antonio Mayor Henry P. Cisneros, he said, the panel is to divide into four groups, one to visit each Central American country briefly and the others to visit two countries each for a longer period. "We will have the advantage of both a general view and a detailed view," Kissinger said.

"We certainly will form an opinion about our relationship with Cuba and how it should evolve. . . , but we do not need to have discussions with Cubans as members of the commission," he said.