Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu announced this week that his country, despite an economy that a recent U.S. congressional report called the second poorest in Europe, has paid off all of its foreign debts ahead of schedule. The costs of this accelerated repayment program have been massive. In a recent report on Romanian human rights violations, congressional Helsinki Commission chairmen Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) wrote: "Fuel and electricity have been rationed for years. Staple foods, including milk, bread and flour, are rationed, and in many localities even these are unavailable. Meat is a rarity; soup bones only occasionally appear in stores. Decades of financial misplanning and inefficient industrial development have led to the dire condition of the Romanian economy, making it the poorest in Europe after Albania." Ceausescu made his announcement on Wednesday to a Communist Party Central Committee meeting in Bucharest, the Romanian news agency Agerpres reported. Ceausescu rules Romania both as president and as the party's general secretary; his wife, Elena, is deputy premier; a son, Nicu, is a regional party secretary, and a younger brother, Ilie, is deputy defense minister. According to Agerpres, Ceausescu announced that "at the end of March Romania fully paid back its foreign debt. This is the outstanding result of our people's work," he said, and it "proves the might of the Romanian socialist economy." Spokesmen for international financial institutions confirmed that Romania has completed paying back its World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans as well as virtually all of its commercial bank debts ahead of schedule. But Radio Free Europe quoted financial sources as saying that Romania still owes about $1.5 billion to governments and international institutions. Under Ceausescu's one-man rule, Romania halted all foreign borrowing in 1981, when its international debt stood at about $10.5 billion. By restricting imports, exporting food and rationing food and fuel, Ceausescu has been able to accumulate foreign exchange funds to repay debts ahead of schedule. At the same time, Ceausescu has launched vast redevelopment programs in which historic sections of Bucharest and other cities have been razed and their residents evicted on short notice to make way for broad avenues and planned new apartment buildings. Ceausescu declared last year that this "modernization" program would extend to the countryside, eliminating half of Romania's 13,000 villages and moving their residents to new "agro-industrial centers." The plan has prompted international protests, culminating in last month's vote by the U.N. Human Rights Commission to appoint a special investigator. Romania has rejected the U.N. investigation as "brutal interference" in its affairs. In a similar move in January, Romania sought to exempt itself from the human rights provisions of the final agreement signed by a 35-nation Vienna conference reviewing the 1975 Helsinki accords. And in February 1988, Ceausescu, angry over increasingly close U.S. congressional scrutiny of Romania's human rights record, unilaterally renounced his nation's most-favored-nation trading status before Congress could act to revoke it. According to Agerpres, however, Ceausescu now has raised the most-favored-nation issue for the first time since last year's renunciation. In meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday with a group of U.S. businessmen visiting Bucharest, the official news agency said, the Romanian president called most-favored-nation status the "only problem awaiting an appropriate solution." Without most-favored-nation status, some Romanian exports to the United States are subject to prohibitively high tariffs. In an open letter to Ceausescu this winter, six former officials, including two ex-members of the party Politburo, a former foreign minister and a former ambassador to Washington, listed the loss of most-favored-nation status among their concerns. "We have lost the American clause for trade," they wrote, "and as a result some of our textile factories have no orders." The ex-officials' letter deplored Romania's international isolation, noting that Norway, Denmark and Portugal have closed their embassies in Bucharest, that the European Community "is unwilling to extend its trade agreement with Romania," and that "all the leaders of the noncommunist nations of Europe refuse to meet with" Ceausescu. The six former officials also appealed to Ceausescu to halt the destruction of Romanian villages, which they called unconstitutional. "Why urbanize villages," their letter asked, "when you cannot ensure decent conditions of urban life in the cities, namely heating, lighting, transportation, not to mention food?" When the letter became public last month, Ceausescu's response was to arrest one signer's stepson as "an agent of a foreign espionage service." This month, West Germany recalled its ambassador after he was prevented from taking a message from Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to another of the letter's signers, former foreign minister Cornel Manescu. Since November 1987, when workers in the city of Brasov demonstrated against a plan to cut their pay if their factories failed to meet production targets, there has been little open dissent in Romania. The State Department's latest annual human rights report noted that free speech is "severely restricted," that "all citizens are required to have residence permits and may not legally move from one town to another" and that "serial numbers and typeface samples of all typewriters must be registered with the authorities, and the use of duplicating machines is strictly regulated."