By Wayne S. Smith | Sun-Sentinel
In his inauguration speech on Sept. 1, Panama’s new president, Martin Torrijos, condemned outgoing President Mireya Moscoso’s pardoning of four Cuban exile terrorists, imprisoned in Panama on charges of plotting the assassination of President Fidel Castro. “For me,” said Torrijos, ” there are not two classes of terrorism, one that is condemned and another that is pardoned. [Terrorism] has to be fought no matter what its origins.”
What a sensible position! One would have expected the U.S. government also to protest the release of the four; it does, after all, claim to be leading the fight against terrorism.
But no, the State Department would not criticize the release. Three of the released men, Gaspar Jimenez, Pedro Remon and Guillermo Novo, all flew immediately to Miami, where they were warmly greeted by well-wishers. Even before their 2000 arrest in Panama, all three over the years had been involved in murders and attempted murders of political enemies.
Rather than returning directly to Miami, Luis Posada Carriles, perhaps the most notorious of the four, apparently dropped off in Honduras and is now somewhere in Central America—hiding out, one would suppose, from Venezuelan authorities who have out an extradition request for him. One can be sure, however, that he also will eventually return to a safe haven in Miami.
Clearly, this had all been previously arranged with Moscoso. She called former U.S. ambassador to Panama Simon Ferro to advise him that the deed was done. And the planes that brought the men back to Miami, and Posada Carriles to Honduras, were chartered by a wealthy Cuban-American.
Many observers suspect there was pressure also from the U.S. government. The State Department insists there was not, that it played no role in bringing about the pardons.
Whether it did or did not, the fact that the U.S. did not criticize or in any way express disagreement with the pardons conflicts with, and in fact undercuts, the U.S. position against terrorism. President Bush has said over and over again that anyone who supports a terrorist, anyone who harbors a terrorist, is a terrorist.
If so, today there are more terrorists than ever in Miami itself.
And few are likely to believe there was not some kind of go-ahead from the Bush administration to set the four men free. There is, after all, a long history behind all this. Posada Carriles and the arch terrorist Orlando Bosch were both accused of masterminding the downing of a Cuban airliner off the Venezuelan coast in 1976, with the loss of some 73 lives, including most of the Cuban fencing team. Both were indicted and spent years in a Venezuelan prison. Bosch was released under mysterious circumstances in 1987 and returned to Miami in 1988 without a visa. The Immigration and Naturalization Service began proceedings to deport him.
As the associate attorney general argued in 1989: “The security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credibly other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists. We could not shelter Dr. Bosch and maintain that credibility.”
But shelter him we did. Urged by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Jeb Bush—then managing her election campaign—President George H.W. Bush approved a pardon for Bosch, who now lives unrepentant in Miami. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, has become governor of the state.
As for Luis Posada Carriles, he escaped from Venezuelan prison in 1985 and turned up in Central America working in White House aide Oliver North’s secret Contra operation, along with Felix Rodriguez, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal with close ties to then-Vice President Bush.
Posada Carriles eventually ended up back in Miami, still involved in violent activities. In a 1998 interview with The New York Times, he acknowledged that he had directed the bombing of a number of hotels in Havana which had left at least one dead and a dozen or so wounded. Despite this confession of culpability, the U.S. filed no charges against him. In fact, it did not even investigate. He subsequently recanted what he had said to The Times, but it stood by the story (and of course had evidence of what he had said). Shortly thereafter, Posada Carriles was off to Panama, where he again ended up in prison.
George W. Bush may be against terrorists elsewhere, but he and others in the Bush family have a long history of protecting Cuban exile terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. And some of W’s close political allies were there at the airport the other day to welcome Jimenez, Remon and Novo back to Miami.
None of this lends itself to strengthening our campaign against terrorism. Rather, it suggests a decidedly unhelpful double standard.
Wayne S. Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82). He also served a number of years as an analyst in the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.