The U.S. government has agreed that Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles be deported to Venezuela if he loses his plea for asylum and other protections.
BY ALFONSO CHARDY | Miami Herald
A federal immigration judge on Monday said he will order Luis Posada Carriles deported to Venezuela if he denies the Cuban exile militant protection in the United States. A Department of Homeland Security prosecutor did not object to Judge William Abbott’s decision on the first day of Posada’s asylum trial at a federal detention center here.
It was the first time since immigration officers detained Posada in Miami-Dade County on May 17 that the United States has publicly named a country where the controversial exile would be expelled if the judge denies his asylum application. Posada was transported to El Paso soon after his detention in Miami-Dade. Despite Abbott’s announcement, it does not guarantee that Posada’s deportation would be automatic. The judge can order deportation, then suspend it on the ground Posada could face torture in Venezuela, an ally of Cuba. The Cuban government wants to try Posada for a series of hotel bombings and has not minced words that he could be executed if convicted.
Monday’s decision by Judge Abbott goes against initial U.S. statements after Posada’s detention when federal authorities said they would not deport Posada to Cuba and Venezuela could be out of the question because of its close ties to Fidel Castro.
‘‘As a matter of immigration law and policy, ICE does not generally remove people to Cuba, nor does ICE generally remove people to countries believed to be acting on Cuba’s behalf,’’ the statement said. Many analysts interpreted the statement as a tacit reference to Venezuela where president Hugo Ch�vez, an ally of Cuban leader Castro, has also demanded Posada’s extradition to stand trial for the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976.
But on Monday, Gina Garrett-Jackson, the lead Homeland Security assistant chief counsel, suggested to Judge Abbott that the federal government would not object to designating Venezuela as the country of deportation since Posada is a naturalized Venezuelan. Garrett-Jackson told the judge that the United States ‘‘reserved the right’’ to elaborate further on its position on Venezuela at a later date. She said consultations were ongoing between Homeland Security and the departments of State and Justice. She said the government did not wish to deport Posada to Cuba, his country of birth, because Homeland Security agreed he would face torture.
When Judge Abbott asked Posada’s lawyers what country they would like their client deported to if he lost his bid for asylum, attorney Matthew Archambeault said ‘‘we respectfully decline.’’ Garrett-Jackson told Judge Abbott on Monday that Posada can’t receive asylum because U.S. immigration law bars protection for terrorism suspects and those accused of ‘‘non-political crimes’’ committed before arriving in the United States.
Then she listed Posada’s alleged crimes: claims that he masterminded tourist-site bombings in Cuba in 1997 and his conviction in Panama in connection with an alleged conspiracy to assassinate Castro in 2000. Posada was pardoned and freed in that case, but U.S. immigration law does not recognize foreign pardons. Posada, 77, sat in the courtroom wearing a bright red detainee jumpsuit, and addressed Abbott when the judge asked if he wanted to press ahead with his asylum application. ‘‘I want to continue,’’ Posada said.
The hearing resumes this morning with Posada calling his first witness: Joaquin Chaffardet, Posada’s Venezuelan lawyer and longtime friend.
Chaffardet told The Herald recently in Caracas that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he and Posada served together as intelligence officers in DISIP, the Venezuelan state security police, and later opened a private investigation firm.
Chaffardet is expected to testify that Posada could never get a fair trial in Venezuela and that government has no jurisdiction in any subsequent case. Posada was acquitted of the 1976 Cuban jet attack and left the before the government exhausted its appeals to retry him.
Two relatives of one of the plane-bombing victims stood outside the detention center during the 45-minute hearing.
“After all these years, we are here to hopefully see Luis Posada Carriles be held accountable for the bombing,” said Sharon Persaud, whose brother Raymond Persaud, died in the plane crash.
Herald staff writer Oscar Corral contributed to this report.