An American citizen who owns a cattle ranch in Honduras charged in federal court here yesterday that U.S. officials took it over as a training camp for Salvadoran troops and that the operation will destroy his multimillion-dollar ranching and meat-packing business if it is not halted.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey, citing judicial traditions against interfering in foreign policy matters, declined to halt activities at the camp immediately, but ordered a hearing July 26 to consider the matter.
Some 100 U.S. military advisers have been assigned to set up a 1,000-man tent camp near Puerto Castilla and train thousands of Salvadoran troops for fighting guerrillas in their country.
In the lawsuit, filed against Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, the landowner, Temistocles Ramirez de Arellano, a resident of Puerto Rico, said more than 7,400 acres of his prime grazing land on the northern coast of Honduras were taken over without his knowledge or consent.
Ramirez said U.S. officials and Honduran army officials selected the site in April, apparently thinking it was Honduran government land. He said he learned of the plan in late May through casual conversation with a U.S. Embassy official and immediately notified U.S. officials that the property was his.
Ramirez said in the suit that embassy officials, including Ambassador John Negroponte, then worked out an arrangement whereby Ramirez, who cleared the former jungle land and has owned it for 20 years, would agree to the takeover of 1,500 to 2,000 acres in exchange for prompt compensation for the property.
Negroponte "masterminded the whole thing," Ramirez said after the hearing. "The agreement was reviewed by embassy officials before I signed it."
Mark Joelson, a lawyer for Ramirez, argued that no compensation was made and that U.S. officials moved onto more than half of the 14,000-acre ranch, bulldozing fences and marking out mortar and rifle ranges for the camp.
Joelson said that, as a result, Ramirez' cattle are starving and his business, worth $13 million, is "going down the drain."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart H. Newberger said an agreement was signed for use of the land and that if Ramirez "has a problem, he should go to the Honduran government."
Joelson argued that the government was "hiding behind the skirts" of the Honduran government and that the Hondurans "have acted at the behest of the U.S. government and in conjunction with the U.S. government."
But Newberger urged Richey not to order activities at the camp halted.
"This is a matter of the highest foreign policy," Newberger said. "If there is any interference with this training, it could have very grave consequences to this government, the government of Honduras and El Salvador . . . , and it would impair the ability of the U.S. government's conduct of foreign affairs."