Luis Posada Carriles was in Miami five years ago posing as a Salvadoran traveler, U.S. officials have learned.
BY ALFONSO CHARDY AND OSCAR CORRAL
Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles used a false Salvadoran passport to fly to South Florida in the spring of 2000—about six months before using the same passport to travel to Panama, where he was arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Posada’s April 26, 2000 trip to Miami, revealed in documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, may become a point of contention during deportation proceedings that resume today for Posada, who has been accused of acts of terrorism.
Use of a false passport to enter the country is a deportable offense in its own right.
Posada, who escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 and was freed from Panama after receiving a pardon, was taken into U.S. custody on May 17 after sneaking into South Florida this year. But the records filed in his deportation case in El Paso, Texas, raise questions about just how often the former CIA operative has visited America.
A travel record included as federal evidence against Posada shows he arrived at Miami International Airport on a flight from Central America on April 26, 2000 carrying a Salvadoran passport in the name of Franco Rodriguez Mena.
Records submitted for the current immigration case show ‘‘Rodriguez Mena’’ traveled to Miami ostensibly to catch a connecting flight to another country. But the record does not show him leaving.
Moreover, a separate record, obtained by The Herald, shows Rodriguez Mena classified as a ‘‘violator,’’ suggesting that he might have slipped illegally out of a transit lounge at MIA.
Matthew Archambeault, a Posada lawyer, told The Herald late Sunday that Posada confirmed to him over the weekend that he indeed traveled to Miami on April 26, 2000—but only to catch a plane to Aruba, and that he never left the transit lounge.
So far, Posada has been accused only of being in the country illegally. But use of false documents is a federal offense that could result in a sentence of up to 25 years in prison if the false document was used for terrorism purposes. Attempting to enter the United States on a false passport also renders a traveler inadmissible and deportable.
U.S. government officials declined comment.
A motion filed by Posada’s lawyers in immigration court last week questioned the relevance of citing the fake passport.
‘‘Document fraud is not a particularly serious crime and would not be the type of crime that would make him ineligible for reception of a bond,’’ the motion said.
In addition to the alleged misadventure in Panama, Posada has been accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people and has been linked to a series of 1997 bombings at Cuban hotels.
The revelation that he came to South Florida once before without being discovered adds new details about his movements just prior to the alleged Panama conspiracy.
It came just months before Posada’s fateful trip to Panama, where he was arrested with three other Cuban exile militants—all of whom live in South Florida.
The four—Posada, Guillermo Novo, Gaspar Jimenez and Pedro Remon—were released in August after then-Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned them. Posada traveled to Honduras where he went underground and then arrived in Miami in late March, still in hiding. Novo, Jimenez and Remon were flown to Opa-locka in a leased private jet soon after being released in Panama.
One of the three, Remon, told the Herald Friday that he did not know Posada had been in the United States before March of this year.
‘‘He may have just gotten on a different plane or something,’’ Remon said of Posada’s Miami visit. ``I didn’t know that he was in here 2000. I never talked to Luis Posada in North American territory.’‘
Novo and Jimenez could not be reached for comment.
Posada’s lawyers, in a motion filed last week, objected to the inclusion of the Rodriguez Mena travel record in the government’s evidence package. They said it was irrelevant to the case. But the motion did not question the accuracy of the travel record.
Posada’s lawyers also objected to the inclusion of other Rodriguez Mena travel records which suggest that he might have flown to the United States on at least three other occasions—in 1998, 1999 and once more in October 2000.
There are no corroborating immigration documents to support those trips, however.
The U.S. filing also includes investigative documents from El Salvador, where authorities issued an arrest warrant for Posada on grounds that he procured false documents in their country.
Posada once lived in Miami with a green card in the 1960s, but moved abroad. His lawyer plans to argue in the El Paso proceedings that he is still a resident, despite having been out of the country for decades.
Norma Morfa, a Miami spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees MIA passport control, said her agency could neither ``deny or confirm this information due to the case still being under investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.’‘
Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman, said her agency is ``precluded from commenting on pending litigation.