Gary Marx | Chicago Tribune
Original shameful title by Chicago Tribune: Cuban militant’s ally denies charges
A prominent Cuban-American linked to a militant accused of blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976 pleaded not guilty Tuesday to weapons charges in federal court in Miami.
Santiago Alvarez, a close ally and benefactor of Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles, could face 20 years or more in prison if convicted of possessing automatic rifles, a grenade launcher and other weapons.
“His spirits are very high and he is confident that justice will prevail,” said Vivian Alvarez, the defendant’s wife.
The outcome of the case also may have a strong bearing on the future of Posada, who is being held in federal detention in El Paso, Texas.
Wanted in Cuba and Venezuela for his alleged role in the downing of the Cuban airliner, killing all 73 aboard, Posada sneaked into the U.S. last spring and lived clandestinely with Alvarez’s assistance before being detained in May for entering the United States illegally.
In September, a U.S. immigration judge ruled that Posada could not be deported to Cuba or Venezuela, where the downed plane originated, saying he likely would be tortured there. The ruling angered both nations.
Matthew Archambeault, a lawyer for Posada, said U.S. authorities have been unable to find a third country that will allow his client entry and fears they may try to use Alvarez’s arrest to detain him indefinitely.
Archambeault said Posada, who is not facing criminal charges in the U.S., can only continue being detained if U.S. authorities show he is a danger to the community or national security—something that could be easier after Alvarez’s indictment on weapons charges.
“Clearly Luis had no involvement in [Alvarez’s case],” Archambeault said.
Archambeault said he would soon petition U.S. authorities to release Posada so the ailing 77-year-old militant “can enjoy his last couple of years” with his family in South Florida.
Cuban authorities have not dropped their demand for Posada’s extradition, and Jose Pertierra, a Washington lawyer representing the Venezuelan government, remains confident that U.S. authorities eventually will extradite Posada to Venezuela.
Posada could also be tried in the U.S. for the airliner attack under international counterterrorism treaties signed by the U.S. and many other nations, Pertierra said.
Alvarez, 64, and Posada are U.S. Army veterans who were trained by the CIA for the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs mission.
But while Posada is accused of the airliner bombing and a 1997 series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist, one of Alvarez’s attorneys described his client as a non-violent, anti-Castro activist.
“He has never committed a violent act against anybody,” said the lawyer, Kendall Coffey.
Law-enforcement authorities began investigating Alvarez, a South Florida real estate developer, in early November after intercepting a package addressed to him containing an altered Guatemalan passport, according to court records.
When federal agents executed a search warrant at Alvarez’s office, he allegedly ordered an employee, Osvaldo Mitat, to move a large white cooler containing more than a dozen weapons to avoid its detection. Federal agents later intercepted the cooler.