Jet bombing suspect ordered free on bail

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge Friday ordered Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles freed from a New Mexico jail, ruling he be allowed to live under electronic surveillance with his family in Miami while awaiting trial May 11 on charges of lying to immigration authorities.

The move to free the 79-year-old, who is suspected of blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976 and bombing Havana hotels in the late 1990s, sparked outrage in Cuba. The Communist Party newspaper Granma posted the news on its website under a headline that read: “Blackmail Gets Results.”

Posada has never been charged in U.S. courts in connection with those terrorist acts, his critics contend, because he likely threatened to disclose other violence committed during his decades of covert work with the CIA.

A Bay of Pigs veteran who once served time in Panama for plotting to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Posada has become a political conundrum for the Bush administration. The president and his Republican allies have benefited from the support of influential Cuban exiles in Miami, many of whom view Posada as a patriotic freedom fighter.

Posada entered the United States illegally in March 2005, about eight months after he and three other Florida-based Cuban militants were pardoned on illegal weapons and conspiracy charges by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso.


The move came four years into Posada’s eight-year sentence, and was seen as a favor to Bush, whose reelection in November 2004 was riding on the continued backing of Miami Cubans.

The other three men, all U.S. citizens, arrived here to a hero’s welcome while Posada -- Cuban-born and Venezuela-naturalized -- made his way home clandestinely. Posada held a Miami news conference, fueling foreign outcry that the U.S. government was providing refuge for a terrorist. He was arrested in May 2005. Cuba and Venezuela want Posada extradited to stand trial for the Cubana de Aviacion bombing that killed all 73 on board the Caracas to Havana flight.

Posada escaped from prison in Venezuela in 1985 while he awaited a third trial in the jetliner bombing off Barbados. He was acquitted twice.

After his 2005 arrest, Posada first was held in an immigration lockup in El Paso -- where he told officials he had made his way to the United States with the help of a smuggler via Mexico and Texas.

Cuban media, however, reported that Posada actually was picked up from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula by a shrimp boat owned by Cuban American developer Santiago Alvarez and brought to a Gulf Coast marina. Alvarez is in jail following a guilty plea on weapons violations charges.

The El Paso immigration court ordered Posada deported in September 2005, but U.S. authorities were unable to persuade any of the seven allied countries contacted to accept him. A federal judge ruled that he couldn’t be extradited to Cuba or Venezuela because of the possibility he would be tortured or abused in the custody of those governments.

Last fall, Posada’s Miami lawyer, Eduardo Soto, filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking his release. Another Texas judge ordered the federal government to charge Posada with a crime by Feb. 1 or release him.

Then a federal grand jury in January indicted Posada on immigration violations and transferred him to a prison in Otero County, N.M. -- voiding the deadline by placing him in custody pending a criminal proceeding.

On Friday, shortly before the court closed for Easter weekend, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso ordered Posada released. She did not address a government request to keep him jailed pending an appeal.

Posada’s El Paso attorney, Felipe D.J. Millan, could not be reached for comment. But he told the Associated Press it was unlikely Posada would be released over the holiday weekend.

“He deserves to go home and live in peace and enjoy his family,” Millan said. “Obviously we’ll do whatever we need to do to post bond. We’ll try to get him [out] as soon as possible.”

Cardone’s nine-page ruling required Posada to post a $250,000 bond, and mandated that his wife and two adult children put up $100,000 bond to ensure their compliance with other conditions of his release, including 24-hour home confinement and wearing an electronic monitoring device.