Posada Carriles: At home with Cuba's public enemy number one

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 20 July 2011

by Rob Walker for BBC News

Cuba is still furious that Mr Posada is living freely in the United States

Luis Posada Carriles is a Cuban militant, a former CIA operative, and to some, a mass murderer.

But at home in Miami, he proudly shows me a plaque from supporters dedicated to "Bambi", one of the half dozen noms de guerre he used in five decades of fighting Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Mr Posada is also quick to show me the scars he says that battle has left him. He takes my hand and presses it to the smashed right side of his face - the result of a 1990 assassination attempt in Guatemala.

"A bullet hit me in the jaw. Another one hit me in the chest and exited from my back," he said. "I was shot six times."

He says the attack was carried out on Mr Castro's orders, a charge Cuba denies. I ask him how many times he believes Mr Castro has tried to have him killed.

"That I know of, three," he says.

I ask: "And how many times how you tried to kill Fidel Castro?"

At this point, his lawyer intervenes and stops him from answering. Mr Posada smiles at me. He looks as though he is bursting to say more.

Assassination plots

Mr Posada is in many ways a relic from a past era. Today most Cuban Americans want to see a peaceful transition in Havana.

Now in his 80s, Mr Posada says he would join an anti-Castro fight even if it meant cooking for soldiers

Mr Posada's militant exile generation is fading away.

But for them, just like Cuba's ageing rulers, the struggle which began 50 years ago is still not over.

While his supporters deem him a freedom fighter, the Cuban government calls Mr Posada the "Bin Laden of the Americas".

In addition to multiple alleged plots to kill the former Cuban leader, Mr Posada is accused in Cuba and Venezuela of a series of alleged terrorism offences.

He was involved in the failed US-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, then worked as a CIA operative until the mid-1970s.

He was arrested in Venezuela in 1976 following the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Declassified FBI and CIA documents show US agents received information that Mr Posada was involved in the bombing.


He was acquitted by a military tribunal in Venezuela, but then escaped from prison while facing a civilian trial.

Mr Posada is also accused of masterminding a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997, in which an Italian businessman was killed and a dozen other people were wounded.

He admitted planning the attacks in a taped interview with a New York Times journalist a year later, but then recanted that confession.

Mr Posada's life-long career as a Cuban militant was not quite over. He was jailed over a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000, but was pardoned four years later.

Mr Posada was then arrested in the United States after sneaking into the country from Mexico in 2005. But to the anger of the Cuban government, he was not prosecuted for terrorist offences.

Instead he was accused of lying to immigration officials about how he got into the US and about his alleged involvement in the hotel bombings in Cuba. He was acquitted in April.

'Explosives and detonators'

Three months on, Cuba is still furious that Mr Posada is living freely in the United States and says the evidence against him is overwhelming.

Relatives of the 73 killed in the 1976 airline bombing demand Mr Posada's extradition

In a government office in Havana, I'm introduced to Otto Rene Rodriguez, a Salvadoran who is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

He has admitted planting a bomb in a Havana hotel in 1997, under the instructions of Mr Posada.

"He offered to pay me between $1,000 (£620) and $2,000 dollars for each device," Mr Rodriguez said.

"I only planted one in the end. He wanted me to do it to disrupt the tourist system. He gave me the explosives, and the detonators and helped me build them."

After planting the bomb, Mr Rodriguez says Luis Posada paid him to fly to Cuba a second time carrying a consignment of explosives.

He smuggled them on to a plane by hiding them in his shoes, a shampoo bottle and a deodorant stick. Mr Rodriguez says he was told to hand over the explosives to a man named Juan.

Mercenaries and witnesses

But in fact Juan was a Cuban agent who had infiltrated the network of Cuban exiles working with Luis Posada. Mr Rodriguez was arrested at the airport.

But US supporters also rallied behind him when the US jailed him on an immigration violation

He was soon being questioned by Lt Col Roberto Hernandez Caballero, an investigator for Cuba's Interior Ministry and a man who has spent two decades trying to gather evidence against Mr Posada.

"We have the testimonies of six mercenaries that came to place explosives; we have the devices confiscated from those mercenaries; we have witnesses to the bombings," Col Hernandez told me.

He said US authorities were guilty of a double standard in the "war on terror" because they had failed to prosecute Mr Posada for his alleged role in the bombings.

"It's not just us who've got this evidence," he said.

"We have given this evidence to the US government, in written documents, and in tapes with the statements of the terrorists. We have shared all the facts with US officials, so that there can be justice."

Untroubled retirement

The Cuban government is demanding Mr Posada be prosecuted in the US for terrorism offences or be extradited to Venezuela to face charges of blowing up the Cuban airliner in 1976.

In a statement, the US Department of Justice told the BBC it had aggressively pursued prosecution of Mr Posada over several years and that its prosecutors had presented the strongest case they believed they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

Back at home in Miami, Mr Posada is apparently able to look forward to a retirement untroubled by further prosecution.

He points out his favourites among the pictures he has painted that now crowd the walls.

He tells me he had no role in the downing of the Cuban airliner. But when I ask Mr Posada about the evidence against him, his lawyer threatens to terminate the interview.

'Against tyranny'

Mr Posada's lawyer also refuses to allow him to answer questions about the series of hotel bombings in Havana, even whether or not he condemns them.

Mr Posada is circumspect about whether he would support today any violent actions launched by exiles from the US.

"I live in the US," he said, "and I would not violate any law of the US."

Mr Posada is allowed to answer a question about the direction his opposition to the Castros' Cuba now takes.

"If there is an actual revolutionary movement from the Cuban people against the Cuban government, or from the Cuban army against their tyranny, I would be there," he said, "even if it meant I had to be cooking food for soldiers".

Rob Walker's radio documentary on Luis Posada Carriles will be broadcast on Assignment on BBC World Service on Thursday 21 July.

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