By Curt Anderson
Associated Press Writer
Posted June 12 2005, 1:28 PM EDT
MIAMI—For more than 40 years, Luis Posada Carriles fought what he believed was the good fight against Fidel Castro’s communist regime in Cuba and other leftist Latin American governments opposed by the United States.
The Cuban-born Posada, a former CIA operative and U.S. Army officer and a shadowy figure known as Ramon Medina in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, wants to retire in Florida and dabble in painting.
But allegations about his Cold War past may prevent him from enjoying that quiet retirement.
Posada has been accused of masterminding the deadly 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner and a string of 1997 hotel bombings in Cuba after the CIA cut him loose in the 1960s. He is not charged with a crime in the United States but could be deported—especially with the Bush administration holding other governments to strict account for harboring terrorists.
“Posada is a living ghost from the violent past of U.S. policy toward Cuba who now threatens to undermine the credibility of U.S. foreign policy on terrorism in the future,’’ said Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba program of the nonprofit National Security Archive research organization at George Washington University.
Posada, 77, faces a hearing Monday before an immigration judge in El Paso, Texas, on charges that he entered the United States illegally by sneaking across the Mexican border in March. He was arrested May 17 in Miami, where he was sheltered by allies in the Cuban-American community while planning to seek U.S. political asylum.
Other governments are watching closely to see how the Bush administration reconciles U.S. use of Cuban exiles like Posada when it suits Washington’s needs and its campaign against global terrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
To many Castro opponents in Miami, Posada is a freedom-loving patriot who deserves U.S. protection for a lifetime of service.
“He is viewed as a hero. He has demonstrated a tenacity against Castro for over 40 years,’’ said Santiago Alvarez, a Miami businessman who is Posada’s friend and U.S. benefactor. ``What he has been accused of has not been proven.’‘
Posada’s attorneys cite Venezuela’s failure in two trials to convict him in the Oct. 6, 1976, bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane off Barbados that killed 73 people. According to recently declassified CIA and FBI documents, informants placed Posada among a group of Cuban exiles who hatched the plot.
“We are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’’ Posada allegedly said shortly before the bombing, according to a CIA document quoting a ``usually reliable’’ former Venezuelan government official.
According to a CIA document, Posada trained for the failed, U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. He was in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Ga., from March 1963 to March 1964, as a second lieutenant.
He became a key CIA source on Cuban exile activities in Miami, then worked with exiles seeking to overthrow Guatemala’s government in 1965, but was terminated by the CIA in 1967. He worked as a security official for the Venezuelan government.
Posada escaped in 1985 from a Venezuelan prison while awaiting a third trial in the airline bombing. A short time later, he turned up as Medina at an airfield in El Salvador that was part of Lt. Col. Oliver North’s secret Reagan administration project to funnel weapons purchased from Iran to the Contras attempting to topple Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
According to the final report by Iran-Contra special counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, Posada helped ensure delivery of some of the $6 million North collected for the Contras, and handled some communications and supply duties. Posada told the FBI in a 1992 interview in Honduras that he had saved $40,000 in U.S. pay from the project.
More recently, Posada admitted in an interview—and later denied—taking part in the 1997 bombings of Cuban tourist sites that killed an Italian. He was jailed in Panama along with three others in an alleged plot to assassinate Castro in 2000 during a conference there, but all four were pardoned last year. Now Venezuela wants to extradite Posada to again face charges in the 1976 bombing. But where Posada might go if he is deported is a politically sensitive question.
The United States does not deport people to Cuba, and U.S. officials have said they won’t send anyone to a country believed to be doing Cuba’s bidding. Cuba’s Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are close allies.
Posada says he fears persecution if he is not given U.S. protection. He bears the scars of a 1990 assassination attempt by gunmen in Guatemala that he blames on agents of Castro. His lawyer has left open the possibility that he would agree to depart for a third country if a friendly nation could be found.