LUIS POSADA CARRILES CASE
Posada here, but he can't leave
Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles is back at his family home in Miami, but his legal battles are not over yet.
by Oscar Corral, Luisa Yanez and Alfonso Chardy
Apr. 20, 2007
Reprinted from The Miami Herald
Luis Posada Carriles, center, is helped out Thursday by his daughter, Janet Arguello, and his attorney, Arturo Hernandez, as he arrives at his wife's house in Miami after being released from federal custody (Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo)
• 1961: Trained for CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, but was not involved in the assault.
• 1963-64: Served in U.S. Army.
• 1965-67: Worked for CIA Miami station on Cuba sabotage missions.
• 1969-74: Battled Cuban-backed rebels in Caracas as senior Venezuelan intelligence officer.
• 1974: Retired from Venezuelan government intelligence service to head private security agency in Caracas.
• 1976: Arrested in Venezuela in connection with bombing of Cuban jetliner off Barbados.
• 1980: Acquitted by military court in plane bombing, but held because of retrial in a civilian court.
• 1985: Escaped from Venezuelan jail. Surfaced in El Salvador.
• 1990: Survived assassination attempt in Guatemala.
• 1998: Admitted to The New York Times a role in Cuban tourist bombings, but later said he misspoke.
• 2000: Arrested and later convicted in Panama in plot to kill Fidel Castro.
• 2004: Relocated to Honduras after being pardoned and released in Panama.
• 2005: Sneaked into the United States and asked for asylum; was detained by immigration agents. An immigration judge ordered him deported to any country that would take him -- except Cuba or Venezuela.
• 2006: Held in immigration detention in El Paso, Texas, despite demands by his attorneys for his release under supervision.
• 2007: Indicted by grand jury in El Paso in January for allegedly lying to immigration authorities on how he entered the country, but a federal judge on April 6 ordered him released on bond.
Barely a ghost of the warrior of lore who once plotted against Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a rumpled and jail-worn Luis Posada Carriles shuffled off a private jet at Miami International Airport Thursday and for the first time savored life outside the shadows of his militant past.
Well, almost. Under 24-hour house arrest and soon to be fitted with an ankle bracelet for monitoring, Posada must remain at his wife's West Kendall apartment until his trial in May.
It's a place where he has never lived -- a cookie-cutter development on a man-made lake far removed from exotic locales across the Americas he used as bases to plot against Cuba's communist government: Panama; Guatemala; Honduras; Venezuela; Aruba. The former CIA operative, 79, is now living with a wife separated from him for more than 30 years in a city that hasn't been home since the Nixon years.
The immediate implications: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the Cuban government railed against the United States; some Miami exiles declared partial victory; groups critical of Posada vowed public protests; those who blame Posada for terrorist acts that killed family members called his release an injustice.
Frail-looking and unsteady, dressed in a rumpled beige suit and flanked by attorneys, Posada arrived at home in a silver sports utility vehicle with five people inside, including daughter Janet Posada Arguello. They rushed him up a walkway to a narrow staircase as photographers and reporters tried to take his picture and pose questions.
He had little to say: "Estoy muy contento" -- I'm very happy. "Estoy muy agradecido" -- I'm very grateful.
Posada attorney Arturo Hernandez said the release surprised even Posada. He was awakened at 4 a.m. and given his clothes by 7:30.
After signing papers in El Paso, he hopped on a private jet, which Hernandez said his law firm paid for, and arrived in Miami shortly before 6 p.m.
"This is an [elderly] man," Hernandez said. "These have been very grueling 48 hours."
Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada of masterminding a civilian jet bombing that killed 73 people in 1976 and a string of bombings in Havana tourist spots that killed an Italian/Canadian national in 1997.
Posada has denied involvement in the jet bombing, was cleared by a Venezuelan military court and was awaiting the outcome of a civilian court's ruling when he escaped in 1985 and traveled throughout Latin America, plotting against Castro's government.
Miami allies said Posada's freedom is overdue.
"He is not a danger to this community, and people here know he had nothing to do with the blowing up of the airplane," said Jose "Pepin" Pujol, one of the men who U.S. officials believe smuggled Posada into the country.
"It's inconceivable that a man who has fought against communism and for liberty for so long and who has served this country so well has been in jail so long," said Ernesto Abreu, 81, whose son, Ernie Abreu, served time last year for refusing to testify against Posada.
"The government here has gotten scared of Castro and Hugo Chávez, because it's the only reason to have maintained him in custody this long."
Posada, who says his facial scars are the result of an assassination attempt by Cuban agents, now must worry about his safety, Hernandez said.
"We've been in Miami for an hour, but we plan to give it more thought in the next couple of days," Hernandez said.
TWO YEARS IN EL PASO
Within hours of the last time Posada declared he was in Miami, in 2005, the federal government took him to an immigration detention center in El Paso, Texas, where he languished for almost two years.
Hernandez said that during the flight to Miami, Posada was "very nostalgic. I found his overriding thought was gratitude not only for Cuban Americans but for the legal system and for this country, which is governed by laws."
Gilberto Abascal, the U.S. government's star witness against Posada in the immigration fraud case, told The Miami Herald that he had nothing against Posada but would tell the truth at trial. Abascal said he and several of Posada's friends smuggled Posada into Miami from Mexico. Posada and his friends, including Abreu, say he crossed the Mexican border.
"You always say I'm a double agent," Abascal said, referring to U.S. government documents that allege Abascal's contact with a Cuban intelligence agent. "Why don't you say that Posada knocked a plane down that killed 73 people? You never say that. They can accuse me and keep on accusing me. I'll say the truth."
Depending on who gets asked, Posada is either a freedom fighter or a terrorist.
In 1997, a bomb planted at a Havana hotel killed Italian Fabio Di Celmo. Posada has never been charged in the United States for that bombing, though he admitted to The New York Times that he masterminded the attacks, a claim he later retracted.
Di Celmo's father, Giustino Di Celmo, said Posada's release is a travesty.
"The United States is a country that wants to demonstrate democracy and everything else, and they've now released a confessed terrorist," Di Celmo, 87, said by phone from Havana. "I ask humanity, where are we heading with this injustice?"
A grand jury in New Jersey is investigating the decade-old case but has not issued charges.
TRIAL SET FOR MAY 11
Posada posted $350,000 bond Thursday following a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso that he could be released under strict conditions while awaiting trial May 11 for immigration fraud.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not exercise its authority to detain Posada but will monitor his stay in Miami.
An immigration judge ruled he couldn't be deported to Cuba and Venezuela because he might be tortured, and no other country has agreed to take him.
Marc Raimondi, an ICE spokesman in Washington, said Posada also will be required to report to immigration authorities by telephone every two weeks and to continue trying to get a travel document "from any government in the world" so he can be deported at some point.
In a written statement, Raimondi said Posada also will be required to report to immigration officials in person as soon as "the criminal proceedings against him" end and to "surrender to ICE for removal in the event that he obtains travel documents necessary to relocate outside the U.S."
The Cuban official news agency Prensa Latina reported the news of Posada's release, headlining the item: "Despite worldwide rejection, Posada is released." Government-sanctioned student groups marched Thursday night outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
José Pertierra, a Cuban-American attorney in Washington who represents the Venezuelan government, lashed out at the Bush administration, blaming it for Posada's court-ordered release. Venezuela wants Posada extradited, but the United States government has not acted on its request.
"It is an affront to the memory of the victims of Posada's terrorism, but it speaks volumes about the absence of sincerity in President Bush's so-called war on terror," Pertierra said.
OUTRAGE IN CUBA
In Cuba, the relatives of the victims of the downing of the Cuban commercial airliner in 1976 reacted with indignation.
"How is it possible that the United States has not charged him with terrorism, but with lying? That's like if they arrest [Osama] bin Laden and charge him with telling lies," Camilo Rojo, whose father Jesús died aboard the doomed flight, said by phone from Havana. Rojo, son of Jesús Rojo, a Cubana de Aviación official who died in the bombing at 33, called Posada "a terrorist. He has said so publicly. The United States knows this but allowed a killer free on the streets."
Miami Herald staff writers Jay Weaver, Frances Robles and translator Renato Perez contributed to this report.
© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.