US Arrests Cuban Terrorist; Venezuela Promises not to Send him to Cuba if Extradited

Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was arrested yesterday after withdrawing his request for political asylum in the US. US officials have 48 hours to determine whether they will honor Venezuela's extradition request or grant Posada political asylum. Venezuela promised he would not be sent to Cuba if extradited to Venezuela.

Luis Posada Carriles during his press conference at an undisclosed location near Miami.
Credit: AP

Caracas, Venezuela, May 18, 2005—Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was arrested yesterday by US immigration officials shortly after giving a press conference in which he announced that he was withdrawing his request for political asylum.  According to Homeland Security officials, Posada was taken into custody by federal immigration officials and flown to an undisclosed location.

Venezuela issued an extradition request to the US government in early May in order to retry Posada in a Venezuelan court for his role in blowing up a Cuban civilian airplane, killing all 73 people on board.  The Cuban government also wants to bring Posada to justice for several hotel bombings, one of which killed an Italian tourist in 1997, as well as for numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.

Up until yesterday, US officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roger Noriega, denied having proof that Posada was indeed in the US.  On Tuesday night Russ Knocke, a spokesperson for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement explained that, “(t)oday is the first time there was verifiable information about his presence in the country.  We had received leads prior to today, which we pursued, but they ultimately did not go very far.”  Knocke refused to discuss the charges brought against Posada that culminated in his arrest. 

In an interview with the Miami Herald a week ago, Posada explained that he had illegally crossed the US-Mexican border with the help of a smuggler.  From Texas, he took a bus to Miami, where he took a break from his terrorist activities, read Confucius and painted images of his native Cuba.

Posada failed to report for an interview with US immigration officials on Tuesday morning, in which his pending asylum request was to be discussed.  A few hours later, he held a poorly attended press conference that was later broadcast on TV.  Most journalists were leery to attend the conference due to the terms set by Posada:  that they would be driven to an undisclosed location and only be allowed to ask questions limited to certain topics. 

“I have lived clandestinely for more than 30 years,” Posada stated during the press conference. “If my request for political asylum should become a problem for the United States government, I am willing to reconsider my request…My only objective is to fight for the freedom of my country.”

Posada was detained as hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched in Havana, protesting his presence in the US, “terrorism and (marching) in favor of our peoples’ lives and peace,” noted Cuban President Fidel Castro.

During an interview with Venezolana de Televisión on Tuesday night, Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón, stated that now it is up to the US to prove that they are truly committed to the fight against terrorism.  “The best thing in the world that could happen is for the US to extradite Luis Posada Carriles…(a) well-known terrorist in US territory.” 

According to Alí Rodríguez, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, the US is obligated to honor the request and assist in bring Posada to justice.  “We are waiting for the US government, signatory to extradition agreements with Venezuela since 1992, to contribute to the capture of this criminal, thus honoring their ethical and moral obligations,” Rodríguez affirmed.

It remains unclear as to what Washington plans to do with Posada.  Over the course of the past month, the media has referred to the Bush administration as being in a tight spot.  Jailing Posada for illegal entry is only a temporary option. Sooner or later, the Bush administration will be forced to choose between extraditing him to Venezuela and granting him asylum. 

The first scenario that would displease the anti-Castro Miami community and could have reverberations for Florida governor and George W. Bush’s brother Jeb Bush’s political career.  This possibility also seems to have been ruled out by the Department of Homeland Security, which, in a written statement, declared that “it does not generally remove people to Cuba,” adding, in direct reference to Venezuela – arguably Cuba’s strongest ally, or “to countries believes to be acting on Cuba’s behalf.”

The other option, granting the widely-recognized terrorist asylum, stands in direct contradiction and overt hypocrisy to Bush’s anti-terrorism rhetoric.  Although Posada has denied involvement in the 1976 bombing, Peter Kornbluh of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive has noted that declassified CIA and FIA documents prove otherwise.  “Posada was involved in an unprecedented crime at the time for the Western Hemisphere.  President Bush should implement the principles of the war against terror that he espouses – that no nation should harbor terrorists,” Kornbluh affirms. 

Steven Schwadron, the chief of staff of Congressman Bill Dalahunt (Ma-D), coincided with this view. “You can’t pick and choose the ideology of a particular terrorist without undermining the fundamental integrity of the global war on terror…Mr. Posada does not belong in the United States.”

The President of the Miami based Cuban American National Foundation, José Hernandez, does not consider Posada to be a terrorist but rather, “a fighter, a true believer who has fought for the freedom of his country.” Hernandez believes that Posada should be allowed to remain in Miami.  “Sending Posada to Castro or Chávez would be like sending him to the wolves.  I hope that does not happen,” he stated.

According to US Immigration Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez, the US has 48 hours to decide “what we are charging him with and what his custody status will be.”

Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel
Credit: archive

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, said that Venezuela would definitely not send Posada Carriles to Cuba, should he be extradited to Venezuela. Rather, he would face the Venezuelan justice system, from which he had escaped in 1985.

“There is no possibility whatsoever that if Posada Carriles is extradited to Venezuela on the basis of an agreement signed in 1922 between the United States and Venezuela that he would be sent to Cuba,” said Rangel.  “He would be processed in Venezuela, in accordance to Venezuelan laws,” he added. For Rangel, the U.S. government’s suggestion that he might be sent to Cuba from Venezuela is simply an excuse and a “subterfuge” to avoid complying with the extradition request.

Rangel also compared Venezuela’s and the U.S. government’s compliance with international norms by mentioning the recent extradition of a Colombian guerrilla fighter, known as “El Chiguire,” to Colombia. “We hope that the United States acts in the same manner as Venezuela,” said Rangel.