Legal Victory by Militant Cuban Exile Brings Both Glee and Rage
by Abby Goodnough and Marc Lacey
May 10, 2007
Reprinted from The New York Times
MIAMI, May 9 — An elderly exile linked to deadly bombings in Cuba and on a Cuban airliner was on his way back to Miami as a free man on Wednesday, his indictment on charges of immigration fraud dismissed by a federal judge in Texas.
The exile, Luis Posada Carriles, had been in El Paso preparing for his trial in the fraud case, which was to start Friday. Some hard-line exiles celebrated the dismissal as a victory over Fidel Castro’s government, which called the development a reflection of American “hypocrisy.”
Dagoberto Rodríguez Barrera, Cuba’s top diplomat in Washington, said in a statement that the White House had “done all it can to protect the bin Laden of this hemisphere.”
Mr. Posada, 79, has been avidly discussed in Havana and Miami since May 2005, when he was arrested here and taken away in a Homeland Security Department helicopter after illegally entering the country from Mexico and holding an odd news conference to deny involvement in the 1976 bombing of the Cuban airliner. He was held in Texas and New Mexico until last month, when he was released on bail to await trial despite the government’s efforts to keep him locked up.
The indictment, issued in January, charged Mr. Posada with lying about details of how he sneaked into the country in 2005. It relied on a South Florida informant who, in an extra layer of drama, found a pipe bomb under his pickup truck soon after the charges were announced.
Mr. Castro has frequently condemned Mr. Posada — he called him a “terrorist monster” on the eve of the May Day celebration in Cuba last week — and questioned why the Bush administration has never charged him with anything more than immigration fraud. The Cuban government has accused him of plotting to assassinate Mr. Castro and says he masterminded the airline bombing as well as a string of bombings of Havana hotels and nightclubs in 1997.
The case of Mr. Posada has presented a quandary for the administration, in part because of his past ties to the Central Intelligence Agency dating from the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs, in 1961. In court papers filed in Texas last year, the government described him as “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks on tourist sites.”
The order of dismissal was issued late Tuesday by Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Federal District Court in El Paso and took both sides by surprise. Judge Cardone wrote that the government engaged in “fraud, deceit and trickery” during Mr. Posada’s naturalization interview last year, thereby collecting the evidence it needed for his indictment.
Rhonda Anderson, a lawyer for Mr. Posada, described him and his legal team on Wednesday as “jumping for joy.” Ms. Anderson said Mr. Posada and other members of the team were driving the 1,930 miles from El Paso to his family in Miami because he was on the federal government’s no-fly list. She said he might address the news media later this week.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the Bush administration was reviewing Judge Cardone’s order.
Mr. Posada could still face criminal charges: a grand jury in New Jersey is investigating whether he had a role in bombings in Cuba in the 1990s. “What’s going to happen with that remains to be seen,” Ms. Anderson said.
In Havana, the Cuban government is displaying evidence that it says links Mr. Posada to the 1997 hotel bombings. It includes toothpaste tubes, shampoo bottles and other items that Cuban officials say were used by his associates to carry explosives into the country.
And a number of new documents released last week by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, an organization that promotes declassification of government documents, also linked Mr. Posada to attacks against Cuba. One was a handwritten surveillance report dating from the mid-1970s that detailed Cuban targets in Barbados, Colombia, Panama and Trinidad, written by Hernan Ricardo Lozano, an employee of Mr. Posada. The report noted that a Cubana Airlines flight arrived weekly in Barbados from Trinidad.
It was that flight that was blown up off the coast of Barbados in 1976; 73 people were killed.
Venezuela, where Mr. Posada is a naturalized citizen, has joined Cuba in attacking him and in denouncing the Bush administration for not treating him more severely.
“Posada should be prosecuted for murder, not for lying,” said Jose Pertierra, a Washington lawyer representing Venezuela in an extradition case against Mr. Posada.
The Associated Press reported that Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan foreign minister, repeated demands on Wednesday that Mr. Posada either be tried in the United States for the jetliner bombing or be turned over to Venezuela for trial. Venezuelan officials accuse him of plotting that bombing while he was living in Caracas.
The courts have blocked Mr. Posada’s extradition to Cuba or Venezuela, ruling that he could be subject to torture there. No other country has been willing to take him.
Margarita Morales Fernández, whose father died on the bombed airliner, said Wednesday that it hurt to see Mr. Posada walk free.
“It seems like the justice system in the United States has no interest in us,” she said in a telephone interview from Havana. “It’s just not fair that he’s free.”
Ms. Anderson, Mr. Posada’s lawyer, said he would keep a low profile in Miami, living at his wife’s suburban condominium and returning to his favorite hobby, oil painting.
Abby Goodnough reported from Miami, and Marc Lacey from Mexico City. Terry Aguayo contributed reporting from Miami, and Neil A. Lewis from Washington.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company