By Wayne S. Smith
Center for International Policy
On December 7 , the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America and the Latin American Working Group hosted a briefing on the Hill on the status of the case of Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile terrorist being detained in the United States on the minor civil charge of illegal entryódespite all the massive evidence of his criminal involvement in various acts of terrorism.
Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive led off by presenting various declassified CIA and FBI documents detailing Posada Carriles’ involvement in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner with the loss of 73 innocent lives, and various other acts of terrorism. In other words, Kornbluh pointed out, the U.S. Government has abundant evidence of Posada Carriles’ crimes. Venezuela wants to try him for the 1976 bombing and has asked for his extradition. Why is the United States only holding him on the charge of illegal entry and why has it refused to deport him to Venezuela?
Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy pointed out that the fix had obviously been in when some six weeks after Posada Carriles’ quiet return to the U.S., Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega had stated that he had no information regarding Posada Carriles’ presence here and that, indeed, reports that he was here might simply be part of campaign of distortion on the part of the Cuban Government! This, despite the fact Posada Carriles’ lawyer had announced his return and requested asylum for him! The government had been forced to act only when Posada Carriles himself organized a press conference and stated that apparently no one was looking for him. He was then taken into custody, charged with illegal entry and removed to El Paso for a hearing before an immigration judge.
Jose Pertierra, a local attorney who represents the Venezuelan government in the extradition case against Posada Carriles, noted that Posada Carriles’ lawyer argued to the immigration judge that his client would be tortured should he be deported to Venezuela. Not a shred of evidence was presented to substantiate that claim, which in fact is entirely without foundation. Indeed, the only defense witness was Posada�s Venezuelan lawyer, Joaqu�n Chaffardet: a man who had been Posada�s boss in the Venezuelan secret policy. Chaffardet has also been Posada�s business associate for the past four decades. Pertierra pointed out that Chaffardet�s obvious bias as a witness was not brought out by the Department of Homeland Security prosecutor, and Chaffardet�s testimony was therefore taken as that of an objective neutral witness. The immigration proceedings were flawed, Pertierra argued, yet the DHS declined not only to cross-examine Chaffardet, but also to appeal the decision of the immigration judge. The Venezuelan government has offered assurances that Posada Carriles would be held under the most transparent conditions should he be returned to Venezuela. He could, for example, have daily consular visits. No such evidence was offered by DHS to the immigration judge.
Pertierra indicated that the illegal entry charge is only a ruse and in no way removes from the United States the obligation to extradite Posada Carriles under the 1922 extradition treaty between the United States and Venezuela. Should the United States refuse to deport him to Venezuela, moreover, it will also be in violation of the 1971 Montreal Treaty dealing with terrorism against aircraft, and the 1997 international convention dealing with the suppression of terrorist bombings. Finally, Pertierra pointed out, it is simply logical to return him to Venezuela. He escaped from prison there back in the 1980s while awaiting trial for the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner. He is a fugitive from justice. He should now be returned to stand that long-delayed trial for seventy-three counts of first degree murder.
Wayne Smith noted that Posada Carriles is in the United States thanks to the intervention of Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressmen Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, all of whom petitioned the then-president of Panama, Mireya Moscoso, to pardon him and three other Cuban exile terroristsówhich she did, as one of her last acts before leaving office. But does not requesting such a pardon contradict and undermine the U.S. position against all forms of terrorism? How can we ask other governments not to shelter terrorists when we in effect are doing just that?
Responding to a question from the floor concerning the consequences should Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as speculated, be appointed Chairwoman of the House International Relations Committee, Smith said he thought such an appointment would result in a serious blow to U.S. credibility in its struggle against terrorism.
Finally, also present at the briefing were Sharon Persuad and Roseanne Nenninger, whose brother was killed in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana flight. He was 19 years old and on his way to Cuba to begin medical studies. They saw their brother off on the plane. An hour later his promising young life had ended. They have waited 29 years now to see those responsible brought to justice. Posada Carriles should be deported to Venezuela to stand trial for his part in the tragedy.
As the hearing adjourned, participants called on Congress to do whatever it could to see to it that Posada Carriles is indeed brought to justice.