Cuban terrorist seeks refuge in U.S.

Luis Posada Carriles couldn’t have been too happy to see his face on the front page of the New York Times yesterday (“Case of Cuban Exile Could Test the U.S. Definition of Terrorist,” May 9). The anti-Castro extremist, who is linked to a long trail of murder and terror throughout the hemisphere, “sneaked back into Florida six weeks ago in an effort to seek political asylum for having served as a cold war soldier on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s,” according to his attorney. Venezuela is seeking to extdradite him for blowing up a Cuban airliner, and even a retired FBI counter-terrorism specialist quoted by the Times (Carter Cornick) said Posada was “up to his eyeballs” in planning the attack. Just last week, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that as “the author or accomplice of homicide, he must be extradited and judged.”

As terrorists go, Posada has had one hell of an impressive career. Initially recruited for the Bay of Pigs invasion (which was crushed before he actually landed in Cuba), he officially served with the CIA from 1961-67, according to declassified records. (The Times tells us nothing about what he did in those years, but we surmise he was a key figure in Operation Mongoose, the CIA’s post-Bay of Pigs campaign of sabotage and terrorism against Cuba.) He next served with Venezuela’s intelligence service DISIP from ’69-74, and then set up a private detective agency in Caracas which served as a nerve center for armed anti-Castro activities. Then came his hey day.

On Sept. 21, 1976, Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister of the leftist Salvador Allende government in Chile (overthrown in a CIA-back coup in ’73), was killed in a car bomb attack in Washington DC, along with his aid Ronni Moffitt. Fifteen days later, a Cubana Airlines passenger jet with 73 people on board blew up mid-flight off the coast of Barbados. Posadas was linked to both incidents, and arrested by Venezuelan authorities for the plane explosion. (The Times does not tell us that when he was arrested a map of Washington showing Letelier’s daily work route was found on him–yet the U.S. never sought to extradite him. In fact the CIA, then headed by George HW Bush, was instead investigating Chile’s leftist resistance groups to the CIA-installed Pinochet dictatorship.)

Posada always denied involvement in the plane bombing, but he served almost nine years in a Venezuelan prison as the case was pending. In 1985, he escaped prison (with the probable aid of the CIA, the Times neglects to say–perhaps because it is too obvious), and wound up in El Salvador, where he oversaw resupply flights for the CIA-backed contra rebels in Nicaragua, in a network assembled by Lt. Col. Oliver North. After North’s operation was exposed in the “Contragate” scandal, Posada found work with the intelligence service in Guatemala (then a notorious torture state, where a near-genocidal counter-insurgency campaign against Maya Indian peasants was underway, the Times again fails to remind us).

In 1990, he was badly injured by gunmen in Guatemala who he charged were sent by Havana. But he was soon back in the terror biz. Writes the Times: “After a slow recovery, Mr. Posada, by his own admission, ran a string of operatives on a series of missions to blow up Cuban people and places.” Among the incidents he boasted credit for in an interview with the Times seven years ago, was a wave of bombings at Havana’s tourist hot-spots, including one that left an Italian tourist dead.

In November 2000, he travelled to Panama accompanied by a charming retinue: Guillermo Novo, whose conviction in the Letelier bombing had been overturned on appeal; Gaspar Jimenez, convicted of the attempted kidnapping of a Cuban diplomat in Mexico; and Pedro Remon, convicted of the attempted murder of Cuba’s UN ambassador in 1980. His arrival in Panama coincided with that of Fidel Castro for an international conference, and Fidel wasted no time in accusing Posada of an assassination plot against him. Posada and his retinue were seized–along with 33 pounds of plastic explosive. Posada protested the whole thing was a set-up by Cuban agents, but he was sentenced to eight years in 2004.

Last year, Panama’s outgoing President Mireya Moscoso pardoned Posada and his three colleagues. She cited “humanitarian” grounds, but the Times noted her close links to Miami’s Cuban exile establishment. Her successor, President Martin Torrijos, criticized the pardon at his inauguaration, saying: “For me, there are not two classes of terrorism, one that is condemned and another that is pardoned.”

The Times also quoted Posada’s longtime friend and fellow terrorist Orlando Bosch, who also faces charges in Venezuela in the jet bombing incident. The Justice Department moved to deport him in 1989, but the first Bush administration over-ruled the deportation order. He remains in Miami, and said in a recent radio interview that he had spoken with Posada.

The government is said to have no plans yet on how to handle either the asylum or extradition requests. Assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs Roger Noriega was cited denying that he knew whether Posada was in the country. (Complete text at Guerilla News Network)

Of course the Cuban press is having a field day with Posada’s re-emergence. The Cuban news agency Prensa Latina ran an interview May 6 with Jesus Marrero, a Venezuelan torture survivor, who described his treatment by DISIP agents under Posada’s personal direction after being arrested as a political dissident in 1973: “Almost every night, they tortured us with electric cables, they put us into metal tanks, they beat us, they tied us to a metal bed without a mattress, and beat our ears with sticks, almost bursting our eardrums.” He also charged Posada was responsible for the murder of Pancho Alegria, an activist in the Venezuelan Revolutionary Party.

But the Miami Herald touchingly refrains from referring to Posada as a terrorist in its coverage, perfering the more politic “militant” (as the Havana Journal gripes). While the NY Times headline at least raised the question of whether Posada is a “terrorist” (as if there is any room for doubt), the Herald opted simply for: “Cuban militant to seek U.S. asylum”

See also:

Noam Chomsky on Operation Mongoose from CommonDreams


  1. Times weighs in, soup thickens
    The NY Times weighed in more officially on the Posada debacle with an editorial May 10 (also running in the International Herald-Tribune):

    One standard for terrorists

    In the name of credibility, consistency and justice for the 73 victims, Luis Posada Carriles, the prime suspect in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, should not be granted political asylum in the United States, which he is thought to have entered illegally six weeks ago. Instead, he should be arrested and extradited for trial, not only for the airliner attack, but also for other terrorist attacks that he has acknowledged planning, including one in 1997 that killed an Italian businessman visiting Havana.

    Trying Posada in the United States for those crimes would be difficult, if not impossible, because they did not occur here and the victims were not Americans.

    Unfortunately, the Bush administration does not believe in the International Criminal Court, which would otherwise provide the ideal venue for his trial. That leaves the unappealing option of honoring the extradition request already made by Venezuela, Posada’s main base of operations during the period of the airliner bombing. Since Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, is a close ally of Fidel Castro, that means Posada could eventually end up on trial in Havana.

    Bush has made a point of his unwavering moral clarity on the issue of harboring terrorists. But doing the morally clear thing in this case risks retribution at the polls from a ferociously anti-Castro Cuban-American community that has helped swing Florida into the Republican column in recent elections. One way out may be to deport Posada to a European country willing to try him or to send him on to the International Criminal Court.

    The one thing the Bush administration cannot do is to shelter Posada by granting him political asylum. Since 9/11, the United States has become so zealous in its efforts to exclude potential terrorists from American soil that it has made it much harder for genuine refugees fleeing deadly persecution in their home countries to find sanctuary here.

    Washington would offend American principles and set an extremely damaging precedent by making a special exception for an admitted terrorist.

    Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports, to its credit, that the National Security Archive has released declassified CIA and FBI documents corroborating that Posada “engineered” the 1976 plane bombing.