Cuban Terror Case Erodes US Credibility, Critics Say
by Jim Lobe
decision Tuesday by a U.S. immigration judge in Texas to deny Venezuela's
request to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, whom Caracas has dubbed
"the Osama bin Laden of Latin America," was greeted with
surprise and disappointment by Latin America activists and even
some former U.S. officials.
wants Carriles to stand trial for the October 1976 bombing of a
civilian Cubana Airlines flight that killed all 73 people aboard
shortly after it took off from Barbados.
ambassador here, Bernardo Alvarez, accused the George W. Bush administration
of using a "double standard" on terrorism. He said the
White House and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which
represented the administration before the court, "virtually"
collaborated with Posada by failing to contest statements by one
defence witness that Posada would be tortured if he were returned
isn't a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela,"
said Alvarez, adding that "if we examine our respective records
on torture, a prisoner is more likely to be tortured in the custody
of the U.S. government than in the custody of Venezuelan officials."
U.S. officials, who declined to speak on the record, also deplored
the decision by immigration judge William Abbott not to extradite
Posada on the grounds that he could face torture in Venezuela.
bad enough when the world knows that we're rendering suspected Islamic
terrorists to countries that routinely use terror," said one
State Department official. "But here we have someone who we
know is a terrorist, and it's clear that we're actively protecting
him from facing justice. We have zero credibility."
long and short of it is that we are harbouring a terrorist,"
agreed Wayne Smith, who headed the U.S. Interest Section in Havana
in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "This is really a total
now 77 years old, entered the U.S. illegally last spring after he
was unexpectedly freed by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso
from an eight-year prison term that followed his 2004 conviction
for conspiring to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro during
the latter's visit to Panama in 2000. Among those who successfully
lobbied Moscoso to release Posada were several Cuban-American lawmakers
from south Florida.
as reports of his presence in Miami mushroomed, and his lawyer announced
that he intended to request political asylum, during April and early
May, neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) nor DHS,
which controls the U.S. immigration service, made any effort to
was finally arrested on immigration-related charges only after
appearing at a well-attended press conference in Miami, and was
quickly transferred to a jail in El Paso, Texas. Even before extradition
papers had been received, however, DHS announced that it would not
deport him to Cuba or to "a country acting on behalf of Cuba"
an apparent reference to Chavez's close relationship to Castro.
Caracas formally requested his extradition in mid-June and has since
submitted reams of documents in support of its request, including
assurances that he would not be mistreated if he were returned.
to the independent National Security Archive (NSA) here, the Cuban-born
Posada joined the U.S. military in 1963 and was recruited by the
CIA, which trained him in demolitions. CIA documents posted on the
NSA's website show that he was terminated as an asset in July 1967
only to be reinstated four months later.
series of 1965 FBI memos obtained by NSA describe Posada's participation
in a number of plots involving sabotage and explosives, as well
as his financial ties to Jorge Mas Canosa, another anti-Castro activist
who would later go on to found and lead the Cuban American National
included efforts to blow up Cuban or Soviet ships in Veracruz, Mexico,
and the bombing of the Soviet library in Mexico City. One memo links
him to a major plot to overthrow the Guatemalan government, an effort
halted by the discovery by U.S. Customs agents of a cache of weapons
that included napalm and explosives. During this period, Posada
was working with the CIA.
relationship with the CIA lasted until 1974, although he retained
contact with the agency at least until June 1976, three months before
the plane bombing, according to CIA documents. During that period,
he worked in Caracas as a senior official in the Venezuelan intelligence
1972 CIA document described Posada as a high-level official in charge
of demolitions at DISIP. The report noted that Posada had apparently
taken CIA explosives supplies to Venezuela and was associated with
a Miami mafia figure named Lefty Rosenthal.
one of the very first reports on the Oct. 6, 1976 bombing of the
Cubana Air flight, a cable from the FBI Venezuelan bureau cites
an informant who identified Posada and Orlando Bosch as responsible
and notes that the two Venezuelan suspects who both worked for
a Caracas private security firm set up by Posada in 1974 had
been arrested by police in Barbados.
another anti-Castro radical, was pardoned by former President George
H. W. Bush in 1990 despite a recommendation by the U.S. Justice
Department that he be deported. He currently lives in Miami and
has repeatedly called for Posada to be granted asylum
CIA document released last June cited a report several days after
the plane was blown up by a former Venezuelan government official
characterised as "usually a reliable reporter" that Posada
had bragged a few days before the bombing that he and Orlando Bosch
were planning to "hit" a Cuban airplane.
Nov. 2, 1976, CIA cable cites information from another Cuban-exile
informant for DISIP, Ricardo Morales Navarrete, also known as "Monkey"
Morales, about Posada's participation in planning meetings before
was arrested by Venezuelan authorities shortly after the bombing
in what one former FBI counter-intelligence official described to
the New York Times last spring as a "preventative measure
to prevent him from taking or being killed."
then spent the next eight years in jail, punctuated by two inconclusive
trials, before escaping Venezuela in 1985 and making his way to
Central America where he quickly found employment with the "Contra"
resupply operation run out of the National Security Council under
former President Ronald Reagan until it was exposed in late 1986
when he went underground again.
a 1998 Times interview in Central America, Posada admitted
to organising a wave of bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed an
Italian tourist and injured 11 others.
of this was deemed relevant to the immigration judge, however, who
wrote that "the most heinous terrorist or mass murderer would
qualify for deferral of (extradition) if he or she could establish
...the probability of torture in the future."
fact, the only testimony before the judge that Posada could face
torture if returned to Venezuela came from a single witness, Joaquin
Chaffardet, a close friend of Posada's, and his attorney, Matthew
the amazement of Venezuela's attorney, Jose Pertierra, U.S. government
lawyers offered no rebuttal to Chaffardet's testimony and went on
to voice reservations about Venezuela's judicial system and its
"increasingly tight" relations with Cuba.
gave this decision to the judge on a silver platter," Pertierra
told reporters. "We feel very deceived with the conduct of
the prosecutors and DHS, which didn't litigate this case in good
the government lawyers had to do was to point to the State Department's
annual human rights report on Venezuela that says there is no recent
history of people being tortured in Venezuela," said Smith,
who added that the result "may work very well for the Bush
administration which can now hide behind the judge's dubious finding.
This is really shameful."
Kornbluh, a Cuba expert at the NSA who has played a key role in
getting secrets documents on Posada's activities declassified, said
the government's handling of the case was a "travesty that
compromises its fight against terrorism."
the Bush administration expects to be taken seriously on the war
on terrorism given the way it has handled every stage of Luis Posada's
return to the United States that will haunt U.S. security interests
for a very long time," he said.
its part, the administration stressed that Posada may still be subject
to deportation to another country, although their efforts thus far
to persuade several Latin American countries have proved fruitless.
Archambeault said he planned to make a new effort at securing Posada's
release in the United States. "We are pleased. This is what
we envisioned as going to happen from the beginning."
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service