Venezuela Seeks Exile’s Extradition
Challenging the United States to make good on its pledge to hunt down terrorists, Venezuela on Thursday formally requested the extradition of a radical Cuban exile who is reportedly hiding in Florida and is wanted here in connection with an airline bombing that killed 73 people.
Accused bomber Luis Posada Carriles’ April 13 petition for U.S. asylum has roiled Washington’s already strained relations with Venezuela and sparked anger in Cuba, the target of the attacks blamed on him. The asylum request said Posada, 77, had managed to evade homeland security measures and slip into the U.S.
Posada is a Bay of Pigs veteran and collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency in numerous attempts to depose Cuban President Fidel Castro. He is wanted in Venezuela in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner en route from Caracas to Havana. Many of the 73 victims were young Cubans returning from an athletics competition.
Acquitted twice in the case, Posada escaped from a Caracas jail in 1985 while an appeal was pending. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said in an interview Thursday that his government had made a formal request through Interpol that Posada be extradited to face a new trial. Rodriguez dismissed U.S. officials’ claims that they did not know where Posada was.
“Posada Carriles has a long history of relations with the security services of the United States. It would be difficult for him to hide,” Rodriguez said.
However, U.S. officials repeated Thursday that they had no solid confirmation of the claim made by a Florida attorney that Posada was in the country. “We are following up on leads as we would normally do,” said Barbara Gonzalez, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miami. She refused to speculate whether Posada, if found on U.S. soil, would be allowed to remain.
On Tuesday, a State Department official suggested that Posada, as “someone who committed criminal acts,” would not merit asylum. “We are a country that respects the rule of law,” said Roger Noriega, the assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Posada is also wanted by Cuba in connection with a 1997 series of hotel bombings in which an Italian tourist was killed and a dozen other foreigners injured.
In a 1998 interview with a freelance journalist while in hiding, Posada acknowledged involvement in those attacks. He retracted the statement after his November 2000 arrest on charges of plotting to assassinate Castro that month at an Ibero-American summit in Panama.
In a book published in 1994, Posada denied involvement in the midair bombing of the Cuban airliner, blaming it on the Cuban government.
Among Florida’s Cuban exiles, there has been no major groundswell of support for the old anti-Castro warrior. Luis Martinez-Fernandez, director of Latin American, Caribbean and Latino studies at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, said he thought the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had made violence in service of a cause seem much less palatable.
“People may identify with his cause, that is of course anti-Castro,” he said. “But the tolerance for these kind of actions is much less after 9/11. There is a recognition that these are international problems, not a Venezuelan problem or a U.S. problem.”
One Cuban American familiar with Posada’s asylum case said U.S. officials were encouraging the fugitive to leave before a formal response had to be given on his request for refuge or the Venezuelan extradition effort.
In Panama, Posada and three other Cuban exiles were tried in the alleged assassination plot targeting Castro and were convicted on reduced charges. Posada was less than halfway through an eight-year prison sentence when outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned him and the three others last August. The other three, who had U.S. citizenship, flew to a hero’s welcome in Miami. Posada, who holds both Cuban and Venezuelan citizenship, apparently went to Honduras.
Castro has demanded Posada’s extradition since Cuban media reported in early April that he had slipped into the United States. In a speech days before U.S. officials acknowledged receiving Posada’s asylum request, Castro lambasted Washington for “the worst hypocrisy” in claiming to lead the global war on terrorism while allowing the CIA-trained militant to walk Miami’s streets.
Immigration attorney Eduardo Soto of Coral Gables, Fla., said at a news conference last month that Posada had entered the U.S. from Mexico in March. Soto did not respond to requests for an interview.
The reported arrival of Posada in the United States sparked concern among some lawmakers that U.S. security remains lax. Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.) called on the House International Relations Committee to investigate how Posada could have gotten in and suggested that the U.S. government, with its long-standing enmity toward the Castro regime, might have “turned a blind eye.”
Rodriguez, the Venezuelan foreign minister, also intimated that Washington had been complicit. The United States “has intelligence services that are reputed to be efficient, even if there have been indications of their being not so efficient, as was clear on Sept. 11,” he said.
The extradition request was approved Tuesday by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, then forwarded to the Interior and Justice Ministry, which delivered it to Interpol on Thursday.
Castro has said his country would agree to an international court trying Posada even if that meant forgoing a death sentence. Venezuela does not have capital punishment, and the Caracas extradition request specifies that Posada would not face execution if convicted.
Williams reported from Caracas and Dahlburg from Miami.