Charges put Castro foe in legal limbo
Campaign News | Thursday, 19 May 2005
Status of Cuban exile is quandary for U.S.
WASHINGTON May 20 -- A potentially lengthy process to determine the ultimate destination of accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles began in earnest Thursday, a day after the government lodged an immigration violation charge against the anti-Castro militant turned post-Sept. 11 U.S. diplomatic quandary.
The immigration charge opens the door to possible deportation. But it isn't clear that even if Posada is ordered out of the country, he would be sent to Venezuela or Cuba, which want him tried in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. U.S. relations with Venezuela are tense, and with Cuba relations are openly hostile.
The 77-year-old Cuban exile was arrested Tuesday in Miami, about two months after slipping into the country from Mexico and weeks after his lawyer announced that he was in the U.S. and applying for asylum.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordered Posada held without bond pending a hearing before an immigration judge on June 13. Posada is confined at an ICE detention facility in El Paso, Texas.
Posada's lawyer, Eduardo Soto, said Posada would request release on bond and would renew a request for political asylum. Posada is a former CIA operative, and Soto has said that his client would be killed by Cuban agents if he is not granted refuge.
Sorting out Posada's immigration status and his asylum request could take months or even years.
With a charge filed, "we're essentially in the second step of what could be a long process," said ICE spokesman Russ Knocke.
Cuban President Fidel Castro, speaking on state television Thursday, portrayed the charge against Posada as a U.S. government strategy to protect Posada and prevent him from being brought to justice for the 1976 airline bombing and other violent acts.
"The world opinion is going to oppose all of these maneuvers and all of these schemes and all of these tricks to protect the terrorist," Castro said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also weighed in, declaring that failure to extradite Posada would amount to sheltering a terrorist.
"The CIA knew those lords of death were going to put the bomb on the Cuban plane," Chavez said in a televised speech in the eastern city of Cumana. Posada is a naturalized Venezuelan, and the bombing was allegedly plotted in Caracas.
Posada's appearance in the U.S. highlights a conflict between the Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 opposition to terrorism and its opposition to Castro, along with an awareness of the political potency of South Florida's anti-Castro Cuban community.
Declassified U.S. documents show that Posada attended meetings at which the plane bombing was planned, and in a 1998 newspaper interview he acknowledged involvement in a 1997 bombing in Cuba that killed an Italian tourist. Posada denies involvement in the airliner bombing.
Allowing him to stay in the U.S. "would take away any credibility we have in the war on terror," said Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. interests section in Havana. "President Bush has said that anybody who harbors a terrorist is a terrorist."
The U.S. has an extradition treaty with Venezuela but is not friendly with the Chavez regime.
In a statement announcing Posada's detention Tuesday, ICE seemed to rule out sending Posada to Venezuela because of its ties to Cuba. The U.S. "does not generally remove people to Cuba, nor does ICE generally remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba's behalf," the agency said.
The U.S. could send Posada to a third country, possibly Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.
Italy might have standing to charge Posada in the death of its citizen in the 1997 bombing. A spokesman at the Italian Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
But Santiago Alvarez, a Miami developer and adviser to Posada, said Posada would fight for political asylum rather than accept being deported to a third country.
"He's going to fight as long as it takes to stay in the United States," said Alvarez, who spoke with Posada on Wednesday.
After sneaking into the U.S., Posada spent time visiting his children and grandchildren. His presence was an open secret, and despite his alleged illegal entry, the U.S. government has acknowledged not looking for Posada because, it said, he was not wanted for a crime here.
Posada, however, may have pushed the government too far by giving interviews earlier this week in which, among other things, he boasted of evading detection by immigration authorities, said Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute.
Now, Peters said, "the choices boil down to two: They can make him face justice or they can make him comfortable someplace."