The Kissinger commission on Central America has sent lengthy questionnaires to more than 200 people involved with the region, asking their views on the nature and degree of U.S. interests.
Some recipients found it variously "sensible," "naive," "too broad" or "extremely leading" toward particular answers. Some who did not receive it said they were insulted.
Herb Hetu, spokesman for the commission, which is working to recommend a long-range policy for the region by next February, said both the 20 questions and the list of recipients were drawn up by the commission staff and approved by the 12 commissioners.
"It was done because there just isn't time to see everybody they want to see," Hetu said.
The recipients included "people with some expertise in the area, some knowledge of Central American affairs," as well as "people with a broadly defined interest in these things," a commission staff member said.
Those who got the questionnaire probably will not be called to testify before the group, while those left out may hope to give their views in person, Hetu said. "Anybody who wants a questionnaire , we'll send it to them," he added.
The covering letter, signed by commission Chairman Henry A. Kissinger, cautions that the questions "are not, of course, intended to preclude your giving us your thoughts on other aspects of the commission's mandate which we may have neglected to include." It asks that the respondents consider "the larger framework" of Central America, including Panama and Mexico.
The questionnaires, to be returned by Sept. 15, focus heavily on priorities. Among the questions:
"How important is it for the United States to help countries in the region eliminate hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy? What concrete measures should we take?"
"How significant is the international financial crisis for Central America . . . . Should the International Monetary Fund and/or the World Bank undertake emergency programs?"
"Should the United States consider the establishment in Central America of totalitarian governments tied to the Soviet Union as a security threat? Or doesn't it matter much? Should all Marxist-Leninist governments be considered tied to the Soviet Union? If not, where is the dividing line?"
That question was criticized by Gino Lofredo, director of the Commission on U.S.-Central American Relations, an educational group that specializes in escorting members of Congress on visits to the area. He said it "ignores the nature of the ties. Within the next 10 years, everybody will have 'ties' to the Soviet Union, but the question is what kind."
Lofredo also criticized the lack of focus on trade issues, "the key to development down there," and said most of the questions "are pretty naive, but they do show a kind of freshness of approach."
Another respondent, who asked not to be named, said the question on Soviet ties and several others made the questionnaire "extremely leading. It is not written in a neutral manner. It assumes that one views the conflict in East-West terms, looking at it not from the region outward but from the view of the problems the region causes the United States."
Larry Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, another educational group aimed at Congress, complained that he did not receive a questionnaire.
"It makes me extremely angry. We're well known at State," he said, "so it must be because of our vigorous opposition to Kissinger's appointment."
The Caribbean Basin Information Project, a relatively new group, didn't get a letter either. "They probably didn't know about us yet," said director Amanda Spake.
Wayne Smith, who headed the State Department's Cuban interest section under President Carter and is known for sharp criticisms of the Reagan administration policies, said he had not sat down to fill the form out yet but thought "some of the questions looked sensible."
Edward L. King, a former Senate staff aide and member of the U.S. delegation to the Inter-American Defense Board, was one of several members of the Center for Development Policy to receive the questionnaire.
"I don't think much of it," he said. "It's too broad and doesn't seem really to get at what long-term policy might be."
King predicted that the commission would get far too much basic information back and noted that one question asks for "other practical, concrete efforts" that can be made.
"I intend to put most of my response there," he said.