May 18, 2007
FUGITIVE TERRORIST AT LARGE
By Jane Franklin
A major story about terrorism is breaking. Day by day the story is changing dramatically. On May 7, 2005, Luis Posada Carriles, one of the two most notorious terrorists in the Western Hemisphere, was apprehended by the FBI. But two years later, on April 19, 2007, he was released on bail to live in Miami under house arrest. An ankle bracelet would monitor his whereabouts while he awaited trial.
What was he to be tried for? Not for masterminding the explosions aboard a Cuban passenger plane that killed all 73 people aboard. Not for orchestrating the bombing campaign aimed at tourists in Havana hotels and restaurants, killing an Italian visitor and wounding others. Not for the many bombs that he personally has set off in various countries. Not for his numerous assassination attempts against Fidel Castro. No, he was facing trial on seven minor charges of immigration fraud and false statements. Trial was set for May 11.
Posada is a classic case of CIA blowback. As his trial date approached, federal prosecutors, worried about what he might reveal about his connections with the U.S. government, filed a motion to bar Posada from talking about the CIA at his trial. In both an interview with New York Times reporters and in his autobiography, Los Caminos del Guerrero (Paths of the Warrior), he had already exposed ugly secrets about the Cuban American National Foundation, the FBI, and the CIA.(1) Without responding to that motion, in fact avoiding that motion, Federal Judge Kathleen Cardone suddenly freed Posada on May 8 by dismissing all charges. No house arrest. No ankle bracelet. No revelations about the CIA.
Meanwhile, Venezuela, with which the United States has an extradition treaty, has repeatedly requested that Posada be extradited to face the trial for the mass murder of those 73 people. The Bush Administration has spurned that request, but faces a serious dilemma about what to do with their terrorist.
Besides the danger of Posada squealing about his years as a CIA agent and confederate, he also has powerful, wealthy Florida supporters to whom President Bush is personally indebted for shutting down the vote count in Florida in the year 2000. In addition, the three Cuban-American members of the House of Representatives from Florida--Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the brothers Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart--are all Republican backers of Posada.
But as this story develops, new voices both here in the United States and around the world are pointing out that under international law Bush must either extradite Posada to Venezuela or bring him to trial in the United States. As the Boston Globe editorialized on April 21, two days after Posada was released on bail: "Venezuela is the most logical place for Posada to face trial. Failing that, the United States should comply with a 1971 international convention, under which any nation that refuses to extradite a suspect in an airliner attack is obligated to try that person itself."
In the wake of 9/11, on November 26, 2001, President Bush declared, "If anybody harbors a terrorist, they're a terrorist." So how can his Administration get away with harboring this notorious terrorist? Perhaps because all those Americans who recognize the name of Paris Hilton have never even heard of Luis Posada Carriles. Radio, tv, and newspapers don't gossip about Posada's trail of serial terrorism from the United States through Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and even into Europe. Ask a typical college class Who has heard of Luis Posada? Perhaps one hand will go up. Nor have they heard of Orlando Bosch, that other most notorious terrorist who also walks free in Miami, not to mention the vast network of terrorists in Florida, New Jersey, and across the country into California.
In September 2005, when Posada was being held in El Paso, Texas, on an immigration violation, Immigration Judge William Abbott ruled that he could not be deported to Cuba or Venezuela because he might be tortured. In fact, the only known torture taking place in either of those two countries is at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo. However, the spinmeisters took advantage of that ruling to create a version of reality spread by the major media that goes like this: Posada is "an anti-Castro militant." Cuba and Venezuela want to have him deported to Cuba or Venezuela because they want to torture him. If Venezuela got hold of him first, Chávez would turn him over to Cuba because Chávez is Castro's pal. Cuba would execute him.
The truth is that neither Venezuela nor Cuba is requesting extradition to Cuba. Both are requesting extradition to Venezuela. Posada became a fugitive from Venezuelan justice more than a decade before Hugo Chávez was elected president. This is not a Chávez issue. It is a Venezuelan issue, dating back to the explosions aboard that Cubana Airlines passenger jet.
The story begins on October 6, 1976, when Flight 455 landed in Trinidad and Tobago on a routine flight from Guyana to Havana via Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica. Connecting from Venezuela, Cuba's fencing team and their coach boarded the plane in Trinidad. Two Venezuelans, Hernán Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, also boarded in Trinidad. They planted two bombs and got off the plane at the next stop, in Barbados.(2) A few minutes out of Barbados the bombs blew up and the plane went down, ending the lives of 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese, and 5 North Koreans.
Thanks to rapid work by police in Barbados and Trinidad, Ricardo and Lugo were arrested within 24 hours. Their arrests led directly to their bosses in Venezuela, Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, who were promptly arrested by Venezuelan police.
Two weeks later, representatives of the five governments involved--Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Guyana--met in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to decide where the trial of the terrorists should take place. Ricardo Alarcón, then Cuban ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago and now president of Cuba's parliament, attended that meeting and has described how they reached an international agreement that the trial should be held in Venezuela. One contributing factor to the decision was that Venezuela did not have the death penalty while the rest of the countries did, and the terrorists were either Venezuelans or Venezuelan residents. Ricardo and Lugo are Venezuelans. Posada, though Cuban-born, is a naturalized Venezuelan. Bosch, a Cuban-American, was living in Caracas at the time. Moreover, the bombing was planned and ordered by Posada and Bosch in Caracas.(3)
The CIA and the FBI offered no help in bringing the bombers to justice. The CIA claims that it ended Posada's CIA career in early 1976 before the bombing of the passenger plane in October. In reality, their assassin was turned loose to do whatever he wanted to do, with impunity. In my history of Cuba-U.S. relations, Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History, I had no difficulty finding information about terrorist attacks against Cuba. The history of systematic terrorism carried out by Luis Posada, Orlando Bosch, and many others is there.(4) I had no secret inside information. If I could find it, the FBI and the CIA knew all of it and more.
As Luis Posada explained to his New York Times interviewers, "`The CIA taught us everything--everything.'" He said, "`They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.'"(5) U.S. intelligence agencies may remove names from official lists, but they know what their various protégés are doing. Here's a typical sample from July 1976: "Working closely with CORU, Cuban exile Luis Posada plants a bomb at the Costa Rica-Cuba cultural center in San José."(6) In June 1976 Orlando Bosch founded the Commanders of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), an umbrella group for carrying out terrorist actions against Cuba and against countries and individuals considered friendly to Cuba. Posada joined CORU in a rampage of terror. The FBI and the CIA knew who was setting those numerous bombs in numerous countries in that murderous year of 1976. CORU's wave of destruction culminated with the explosion of Flight 455 on October 6.
George H.W. Bush was the director of the CIA at that time. And years later, in 1990, at the urging of his son Jeb Bush and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the elder Bush, by then the president, released Orlando Bosch, even though in 1989 the FBI and the CIA reported that Bosch "`has repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death.'"(7) Bosch walks free in Miami, continuing to this day to boast on Miami television about his terrorism and how it continues.
Posada was freed earlier. In 1985, with the help of a bribe paid by Jorge Mas Canosa, chair of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, he escaped from Venezuelan prison while awaiting the outcome of his trial for those 73 murders. Soon he joined Félix Rodríguez, a CIA-trained Cuban-American who was directing covert operations against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua from a base in El Salvador. Rodríguez was reporting directly to Oliver North in the Reagan White House and meeting with Vice-President George H. W. Bush during the period when the Boland Amendment had outlawed U.S. aid to the so-called "contras" in Nicaragua.(8)
When the illegal aid to the "contras" was exposed, Posada simply transferred to Guatemala where he worked for President Vinicio Cerezo, keeping an eye on Cerezo's own military for signs of a possible coup or assassination. In Honduras he launched a bombing campaign that targeted Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina, who was disposed to improving relations with Cuba. Posada was forced out of Honduras in 1995 amid allegations that he set off 41 bombs there in one year. He moved back to El Salvador as his base of operations.
Posada hired Salvadorans to smuggle bombs into Havana in 1997 for a bombing campaign that targeted tourists in Havana's hotels and restaurants. Before the Soviet Union disintegrated, 85 to 88 percent of Cuban trade was with the Soviet Union and other countries belonging to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), which disbanded in February 1991.(9) Cuba turned to tourism as a primary means of stopping the nosedive of its economy. Washington strengthened the trade embargo against Cuba, operating hand in glove with terrorist attacks aimed at Cuba's economy, especially tourism.
On September 4, 1997, Posada's bombs caused their first fatality--an Italian, Fabio di Celma, killed in a hotel lobby. Later, when asked about di Celmo's death, Posada said, "That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time." He said his conscience is clear and "I sleep like a baby."(10) On September 15, Cuban Interior Ministry Col. Adalberto Rabeiro, head of the team that investigated the bombings, went on nationwide television to speak in detail about the bombings and the arrest on September 4 of Salvadoran Raúl Ernesto Cruz León, who said he had been paid $4,500 per bomb. On his first trip in July, Cruz smuggled explosives in his shoes, detonators in highlighting pens, and used pocket calculators with clocks as timers. On his second trip he smuggled explosives and detonators in a small television set and used a clock radio as a timer.(11)
In 1997 and 1998, Juan Tamayo, an investigative reporter for The Miami Herald, wrote numerous articles about Posada's terrorism. Tamayo provided scoops for his readers. But the FBI and the CIA ignored that evidence because they already knew what was happening and had no intention of interfering with the terrorist they had trained like an attack dog. When plots brought to their attention forced the FBI to respond, a search could serve as a timely warning to conspirators to back off and lay low for a while. As Tamayo pointed out, the practice is "known as `admonishing' or `demobilizing' an operation."(12)
Then came the astounding New York Times interview in which Posada boasted about his career as a terrorist. An accompanying article described how Antonio Jorge (Tony) Álvarez, a Cuban-American businessman in Guatemala, risked his life to inform the FBI that his two partners were "working with a mysterious gray-haired man who had a Cuban accent and multiple passports." They were acquiring "explosives and detonators, congratulating each other on a job well done every time a bomb went off in Cuba" in 1997. Álvarez also heard them "talk of assassinating Fidel Castro" at the Ibero-American Summit to be held on Margarita Island, Venezuela. Álvarez said that Cuban immigrants from Union City, New Jersey, were "wiring money to the plotters." When Alvarez reported what he had learned, the FBI was forced to respond. But Posada, in his interview, described Jorge Kiszinski, the FBI agent who phoned Álvarez, as "`a very good friend' whom he had known for a long time." Posada said that the FBI had not called him or his collaborators. "`I think they are all in cahoots, Posada and the FBI,'" Álvarez said. "`I risked my life and my business, and they did nothing.'"(13)
By doing nothing, the FBI gave the green light not only to the continuance of the bombing campaign but to the plans to assassinate Fidel Castro in Venezuela in November 1997, a plan foiled by the Coast Guard's happening to uncover evidence of the plot when they went to the aid of the would-be assassins' floundering boat on its way to Margarita Island.(14)
Now that Posada himself forced a response by surfacing in Miami after his illegal entry, maybe finally someday he will be indicted for at least one of his terrorist crimes. Evidence that has been available for all these years is being portrayed as new evidence. Since September 2006, a federal grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, is evidently slowly investigating financial links between Cuban-Americans in New Jersey and the bombing campaign in Havana. The FBI has even returned to Cuba to collect evidence.
This time perhaps they will use the evidence against terrorists instead of anti-terrorists. In 1998 the FBI also went to Cuba to collect evidence. Cuban authorities gave them reams of material gathered by Cubans stationed in Florida to foil terrorist plots. Instead of arresting the terrorists, the FBI, on September 12, 1998, arrested the Cubans who had gathered the evidence. Now known as the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labańino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González were tried and convicted in Miami. A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2005 overturned their convictions, providing legal recognition of the fact that the city of Miami is so inflamed with passion against Cuba that it is unfit as a site for the trial of any case involving Cuba where the defendant is not in favor of overthrowing the Cuban government.(15)
But a year later, the full Appeals Court reversed that decision. The anti-terrorists remain in prison while the terrorists continue to terrorize. In 2000, Posada masterminded yet another attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama City. If the plot had succeeded, hundreds of people, mainly students, would have been blown up along with Castro. Once again, the plot was foiled by Cuban intelligence agents. Most of Posada's attempts to kill Castro at international meetings have gone unnoticed by the media. Making sure that the world would hear of this one, Fidel Castro announced the details as he arrived in Panama City for an Ibero-American Summit. Panamanian police arrested Posada and three of his Cuban-American co-conspirators, who were with him in Panama City. In 2004, President Mireya Moscoso, reportedly for a fee of $4 million, pardoned all of them on the eve of the end of her presidency and promptly moved to Miami, where terrorists and their liberators are richly welcomed.
Despite all the evidence, mainstream journalists and even some journalists from alternative media continue to describe Posada with euphemisms like "militant" or even "activist." NPR headlined, "U.S. Torn over How to Handle Anti-Castro Crusader."(16) An Associated Press report headlines "FBI Adds to U.S. Case Against Militant Posada" and refers to him as "a fierce Castro opponent," never mentioning "terror" or "terrorist" or "terrorism" even though the article concerns his bombing campaign.(17)
But that isn't stopping the growing understanding about precisely what is happening here.
On April 17, before Posada was released on bail, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio and presidential candidate, wrote an open letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asking that the Justice Department extradite Posada for trial in Venezuela. He said, "The United States must make it clear that it does not reward terrorists."(18)
On April 19, Posada was released on bail. The next day The Los Angeles Times editorialized that Washington "has done many odd things in 46 years" in its relations with Cuba "but letting a notorious terrorist walk stands among the most perverse yet."(19) There is an international outcry. Thousands of well-known people from around the globe have signed a petition urging that Posada be brought to justice. A Jamaican columnist, John Maxwell, wrote that "people all round the world wonder how the United States Government can justify harbouring Luis Posada Carriles."(20)
Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives on May 3, Rep. Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, pointed out that Posada is "a wanted international fugitive." He said Posada's case "shows the double standard of the Bush Administration in its so-called commitment to fight terrorism." He asked, "Why is the Bush Administration handling Carriles in this manner?" He answered, "Three letters say it all: C-I-A. Carriles was a CIA agent." He noted that Posada's lawyer said his client would talk about his CIA assignments during and after his official employment.(21)
The Miami Herald posted a letter from Margarita Morales Fernández, a Cuban-American in Miami whose father was a passenger on that plane in 1976-Luis Alfredo Morales Viego, the coach of the Cuban fencing team: "Our collective grief is reflected in the anguish of the children, parents and spouses of those who were killed that day….We make up the Committee of the Relatives of the Victims of the Sabotage of the Cubana airliner. We have gotten together not to demand vengeance, but to demand that justice be done for us and for all victims of terrorism. I ask only what the laws of the United States provide for: I ask that the United States extradite Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for the murder of my father."(22) Now Posada walks free in the very city where she resides.
Since Posada was set totally free on May 8, more newspapers and more congressional members are protesting. Regarding Judge Cardone's decision, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted noted attorney José Pertierra, who represents the Venezuelan government in the extradition case: "`We're not indignant about what this judge has done; we're indignant about what the White House has done to bring out this decision.'" He said, "`I don't think they're stupid at all. The government did as little as it possibly could, as sloppily as it possibly could. This was the result the government wanted all along.'"(23)
In his Washington Post column, Eugene Robinson said that Judge Cardone's point was that "if the government really wanted to keep Posada behind bars because he was a career terrorist, prosecutors should have prosecuted him as a terrorist. Then, faster than you can say `Patriot Act,' authorities could have made him disappear into the netherworld of indefinite detention where terrorism suspects named Muhammad are kept."(24)
Odalys Pérez, the daughter of the pilot of Flight 455, warned that freeing Posada could lead to an escalation of violence against Cuba. She said that's why Cuba has to send men like the Cuban Five "to expose plans against their country hatched in the United States."(25) On the day after Posada's release, Rep. Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, called on George W. Bush to certify Posada as a terrorist under the Patriot Act and detain him to "prevent him from fleeing the country while the Administration determines how and where he can stand trial for his crimes."(26)
In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said the American people "deserve a full accounting" of Bush's "knowledge of Luis Posada's role." That Bush was George H.W. and the year was 1988. Now almost 20 years later there is no full accounting and Posada is free. But powerful forces might wish that Posada would die before he starts telling secrets again. Posada should be watching his back.
Historian Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History.
E-mail Jane Franklin: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rohter, "Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles' Backing" and "Life in the Shadows, Trying to Bring Down Castro," The New York Times, front-page articles, July 12-13, 1998. Luis Posada Carriles, Los Caminos del Guerrero, Honduras, August 1994. See
2 The bombs were placed in the passenger section, one at a seat, forward of the center of the plane, and the other in the bathroom in the rear. They were not in the luggage compartment as some reports say. A special issue of the Cuban newspaper, Granma, October 19, 1980, describes in detail exactly how the locations of the bombs were determined.
3 Interview of National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón by MSNBC producer Mary Murray, NBC News, April 29, 2005.
4 Jane Franklin, Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History (Melbourne and New York: Ocean Press, first edition 1992, second edition 1997).
5 Bardach and Rohter, "Life in the Shadows, Trying to Bring Down Castro," July 13, 1998.
6 Cuba and the United States, entry for July 1, 1976. To follow the bombings and the context of Cuba-U.S. relations in which CORU was operating, see the chapter on 1976.
7 Jeb Bush later became governor of Florida, with the support of the powerful and influential right-wing multimillionaires in the Cuban American National Foundation, chaired at the time by Jorge Mas Canosa, one of Posada's main financiers. The campaign to free Bosch began in 1989 when Ros-Lehtinen was running for Congress. Jeb Bush was her campaign manager. She became the first Cuban-American in Congress. See Cuba and the United States, entry for June 23, 1989.
8 For more about these connections, see Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History.
9 The CMEA, also known as Comecon, was a trade alliance of socialist countries from 1949 until it was disbanded in February 1991. When Washington established a trade embargo against Cuba in 1962, 83 percent of Cuba's trade was with the United States. The CMEA stepped into that vacuum. When the CMEA disbanded, Cuba had to fill that vacuum on its own.
10 Bardach and Rohter, "Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles' Backing," July 12, 1998.
11 See Juan O. Tamayo, "Cuba describes suspect's actions in bombing spate," Miami Herald, September 16, 1997.
12 Tamayo, "Plot to Kill Castro in Dominican Republic is Exposed," Miami Herald, August 9, 1998.
13 Bardach and Rohter , "A Cuban Exile Details the `Horrendous Matter' of a Bombing Campaign," New York Times, July 12, 1998. The article provides names of Posada's collaborators in Guatemala and in New Jersey.
13 For the full story of that plot, the trial, the acquittal, and the later confession of one of the plotters, see Franklin, "Gunning for Castro," The Nation, December 15, 1997, and "Terrorist's Best Defense," ZNet online, July 5, 2006 www.zmag.org Both are also available at my homepage http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jbfranklins.
14 See Franklin, "Miami Vice," ZNet online, September 6, 2005 www.zmag.org. Also available at my homepage.
15 National Public Radio, May 4, 2007; NPR.org.
16 Curt Anderson, "FBI Adds to U.S. case Against Militant Posada," Associated Press, May 5, 2007.
17 Dennis J. Kucinich, http://www.kucinich.house.gov
18 "A Terrorist Walks," Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2007.
19 John Maxwell, "Common Sense," The Jamaica Observer, April 29, 2007.
20 Jim McDermott, http://www.house.gov/mcdermott/sp070503.shtml
22 "There are no good terrorists," MiamiHerald.com, posted April 30, 2007.
23 Robert Collier, "Charges dropped for Cuban militant," San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 2007.
24 Eugene Robinson, "Free Ride for a Likely Killer," Washington Post, May 11, 2007.
25 "Slain Pilot Daughter: Jail Posada," Prensa Latina, May 9.
26 Bill Delahunt, http://www.house.gov/delahunt/posadaletter.pdf
27 Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History, entry for September 22, 1988, from the Congressional Record.