The 78-year-old Posada is lionized by hard-line anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami. He stands accused of conspiring to blow up a Cuban airliner in 1976, causing 73 deaths. He denies involvement, but newly declassified documents place him at planning sessions for the attack.
Posada has boasted of bombing hotels in Havana that resulted in one death and 11 injuries. In 2000, a Panamanian jury convicted Posada and three other terrorists of plotting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, and they were jailed. Outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, however, pardoned the four — some believe as a favor to the White House.
A naturalized Venezuelan citizen, Posada was arrested in spring 2005 for entering the U.S. illegally. An immigration judge has since blocked his deportation to stand trial in either Venezuela or Cuba because of concerns about the fairness of any proceeding in those countries. The Bush administration now faces a choice between trying Posada in this country or setting him free in February.
Letting him walk would clearly be an outrage, and trying him in a U.S. courtroom after refusing to hand him over to Venezuela would create a perception problem across Latin America. The State Department has approached a few countries to take Posada, but all have refused.
It isn't clear whether Spain is one of these nations, but the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero should be encouraged to resolve this impasse. Madrid is a credible interlocutor between Washington and Latin America, and Spanish courts have a recent tradition — thanks in large measure to crusading magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who pursued former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, among others — of aggressively taking on cases of universal jurisdiction.
Washington should broker a deal that allows Posada to be tried in a third country whose principled neutrality is not questioned in this case — even if it means upsetting some Cuban Americans in Miami or putting up with some embarrassing revelations about CIA activity among the exile community.
The alternative is for the U.S. insistence that nations band together to fight the war on terror to sound hypocritically self-serving.