Honduras intends to establish a permanent military training camp for the rest of Latin America at Puerto Castilla after the Americans leave the base they plan to build there to train Salvadorans, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.
The official, who was deeply involved in the recently concluded base negotiations, said Honduras not only will inherit a facility ready-made for training ground troops but could use the adjacent port for training Latin navies as well.
Puerto Castilla, on the Gulf of Honduras, "is beautiful water for a Navy base," said the official. "Our Navy used to have a base there."
He said the Reagan administration does not intend to spend any more than the previously announced $200,000 for preparing Puerto Castilla for training troops. Improvements beyond what the administration has in mind would have to be paid for by the Hondurans, he said.
Administration officials have said they will build an "austere" base at Puerto Castilla, featuring canvas tents rather than permanent barracks. But the senior defense official did not rule out lending money to Honduras, Congress willing, for upgrading Puerto Castilla after the American training team leaves.
"If we can find some credits," the official said, "we would be glad to help them." He said a Honduran-run training camp for the anti-communist countries of Latin American could help bring stability to the region.
Asked if it were realistic, given the rivalries in the region, to expect other Latin nations to turn to Honduras for military training, the official replied: "Look what's happening there now. Honduras and El Salvador used to be at war. And here they are today--Salvadorans being trained by Americans in Honduras."
He said there is a definite need for a regional training camp like the one in Honduras. He named Costa Rica and Guatemala as among the Latin countries that might want to send their troops there for the kind of training the Americans will give Salvadorans at Puerto Castilla.
The Pentagon intends to send 100 Army officers and enlisted men to Puerto Castilla this month to start training a quick reaction Salvadoran battalion of 1,000 men and three highly mobile light infantry battalions of 350 men each, called casadores. In addition, the Army is training 525 Salvadoran junior officers at its infantry school at Fort Benning, Ga.
Administration leaders believe that the Salvadoran army could win against the anti-government guerrillas if it could learn how to conduct fast, hard-hitting operations in the bush.
They complain that the Salvadoran officers prefer set-piece attacks, preceded by artillery, which enables the guerrillas to fade into the jungle relatively unscathed.
The administration has turned to the Honduran base as a way to keep training Salvadoran troops without violating the current limit of 55 U.S. military advisers on Salvadoran soil.
The Pentagon official said a regional training base at Puerto Castilla would supplement but not replace the U.S. training effort at its military schools in Panama. He said the future of those schools will be up to Panama after it takes them over from the United States next October.