NOTE: Original AP title: Anti-Castro Cuban Militant Seeks Asylum
By CURT ANDERSON | Associated Press Writer
A Cuban linked to assassination plots against Fidel Castro and wanted in Venezuela for a 1976 Cuban airliner bombing asked Wednesday for political asylum in the United States, his lawyer said.
Cuba and Venezuela contend that the Bush administration would be harboring a terrorist if Luis Posada Carriles, 77, is granted asylum.
Posada, who entered the United States illegally through Mexico about a month ago, fears that he would be persecuted and probably killed if deported to another country, said his attorney, Eduardo Soto.
“We believe he is in danger anywhere but the United States,” Soto told reporters. “If he is extradited from the United States, he will be found dead sooner or later.”
Soto said that Posada, a Cuban native who has Venezuelan citizenship, also will claim status under a 1966 law that lets Cubans gain permanent legal residency in the United States one year and one day after they arrive.
Cuba and Venezuela, whose ties have strengthened under Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, have harshly criticized the possibility that the Bush administration might grant asylum to Posada.
In a televised speech Monday, Castro said the United States would effectively be backing international terrorism by allowing Posada to remain. The 1976 Cubana Airlines bombing killed 73 people.
Soto contended that Venezuela has a weak case for extradition because Posada was tried and acquitted twice in the airline bombing. He is wanted for escaping from prison in Venezuela while awaiting a prosecutor’s appeal in that case.
Soto also said Posada worked “directly and indirectly” for the CIA for years and had previously held U.S. legal resident status.
Venezuela’s vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, said Tuesday that Venezuela wants Posada for a 1985 prison escape and that Bush should “be consistent with his anti-terrorist policy” by turning him over to Caracas.
Some U.S. officials also raised questions, including Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts, senior Democrat on the investigative subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee.
Delahunt, in a letter to top Republicans on the panel, said hearings should be held to determine how Posada got into the United States, who assisted him and whether Bush administration officials knew in advance.
“It appears that a wanted terrorist has entered the U.S. with the expectation that he will be allowed to stay because some here view him as a ‘freedom fighter’ instead of a cold-blooded killer,” Delahunt said in the letter.
Under U.S. law, asylum can be granted to people fearing persecution in their home countries based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
The U.S. government can deny asylum because of “a criminal history, or ties to terrorism or genocide,” said Bill Strassberger, spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of the Homeland Security Department. “It’s decided on a case-by-case basis.”
Posada and three associates were imprisoned in Panama for their roles in an alleged plot in 2000 to kill Castro at a conference in Panama. They were pardoned last year.