The Bush administration has done an excellent job of confusing the public about its plans regarding Luis Posada Carriles, former CIA operative who blew up a civilian Cubana airliner on October 6, 1976, killing 73 innocent civilians. He resurfaced in the US a couple of months ago and is now being held in El Paso Texas on a minor illegal entry charge brought against him by Homeland Security.
Numerous reporters from several newspapers and magazines have talked to unnamed administration officials and quoted them as saying the US has decided Posada will not be deported or extradited to Venezuela, because it has a policy not to do so to a country which “acts on behalf of Cuba.”
Indeed, Homeland has stated it does have such a policy and Venezuela is such a country. If such a policy exists, this is the first time Homeland has implemented it or made it public. In any event, it’s Homeland’s policy, has no relevance to extradition, and there is no official statement by the State Department that it has such a policy or that it would prevent extradition to Venezuela.
If the US honors its laws, Constitution and treaty obligations (as its president in January took an oath to do), it has to extradite Posada to Venezuela. Venezuela has an 83-year old extradition treaty with the US which has always been honored by both countries. For years Venezuela has had a standing request under this treaty to extradite Posada for trial in the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 bombing. He apparently has visited Miami occasionally in the past.
Venezuela renewed its demand two weeks ago. The crime started in Caracas, where Posada and his partner Orlando Bosch made the bomb, their two agents then got on the Cubana flight with it in Trinidad, at the Barbados stop they put it in the plane restroom and got off the plane, and the plane exploded after take off. The agents caught a flight back to Caracas which stopped in Trinidad where they were apprehended. One of them, Posada’s employee, later confessed Posada made the bomb and he planted it at Posada’s direction.
An immigration case is something entirely different from extradition. In immigration proceedings (handled by Homeland Security under supervision of its director and the president), the question is the right to emigrate and where an immigrant should be sent to live (usually his home country) when he is removed for illegal entry or deported for certain conduct in the US. Extradition (handled by the State Department under supervision of the secretary of state and the president) concerns the question where an alleged criminal should be tried for his crime, regardless of his immigration status. Venezuela is the only place where Posada could legally be tried for this crime, because of his Venezuelan citizenship and the fact that his crime was committed there. In fact he was being tried there when in 1985 he was allowed to escape and go to Nicaragua to work under Col. Oliver North in the Contra supply operation.
Posada also has Cuban citizenship since he was born there. Once Cubans set foot in the US, whether the entry is illegal or legal, they have the right to stay here and work and apply for US permanent residency after a year. This is under the Cuban Adjustment Act and the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy. They do not need to file asylum cases, and usually don’t.
Homeland has charged Posada only with not reporting immediately to them on entry. This would normally not be worth filing, in any event it’s a simple matter which could be determined within a few minutes and a small fine. However it’s been set for hearing on June 13 and Posada’s Miami lawyers are talking about filing motions to move the case to Miami, filing asylum petitions and other technical maneuvers. From Secretary of State Rice’s statement Saturday, one could surmise that the Homeland’s case will go on for many months. Reportedly Posada is very ill and may not be around much longer.
Our CIA and State Department were at least very aware of the plans for the Cubana bombing, and neither (or anyone in our government) gave Cuba or prospective passengers any warning of the coming attack. Posada had been trained in the 1960s by the CIA in explosives. He was on the CIA payroll for many years up until about four months before the Cubana bombing. He went back on when he was sent to Nicaragua. Recently released CIA and State Department reports indicate that a few months beforehand they were aware that Posada and Bosch were planning to bomb a Cuban civilian airliner, and just a few weeks beforehand, in June 1976, the pair had plans to bomb a Cubana flight traveling from Panama to Havana. CIA also had beforehand reports about the planning meetings in Caracas and Santo Domingo involving Posada and Bosch. None of these reports were made available to the Venezuelan officials who were prosecuting them in the ’80s. It would be interesting to learn if the CIA director informed President Ford of the impending attack on innocent Cuban civilians.
George Bush Sr. was the CIA director at the time of the bombing. He was vice present at the time when Posada was allowed to escape during his trial in Venezuela and report to Oliver North in Nicaragua. He was president when he pardoned Bosch, allowing him to stay in the US against the recommendation of his Justice Department.
There’s no valid reason why Posada should not be extradited to Venezuela now. There’s no necessity to wait while lawyers mess around with Homeland’s insignificant illegal entry claim or any asylum claim. The case should be promptly submitted to the extradition judge.
It seems like the administration is using these immigration cases, with Posada’s cooperation, to try to delay decision on the extradition request in hope of avoiding evidence of the CIA’s involvement in the bombing from becoming public in a Venezuelan proceeding. Part of its plan seems to be to make reporters and the public think the US can’t extradite until the immigration proceedings are ended and they have some policy preventing extradition. Neither of which is so.
Tom Crumpacker is a retired lawyer now working with the Miami Coalition to End the US Embargo of Cuba.