Bush Sat on Evidence of Cuban Terror
by Robert Parry
May 7, 2007
Reprinted from Consortium News
Earlier this year, as accused right-wing terrorist Luis Posada Carilles successfully sought to be freed on bond, the Bush administration possessed secret evidence implicating the 79-year-old Cuban exile in terrorist bombings in Havana a decade ago.
The evidence, an FBI document based on interviews with confidential sources in the late 1990s, linked Posada to a wave of hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. Administration lawyers have now filed the document in court as part of the illegal immigration case against Posada that is scheduled to resume in Texas on May 11.
On April 19, however, Posada was freed on $350,000 bond and allowed to live in his wife’s home in Miami, where many right-wing Cuban exiles regard him as a hero.
The relatively gentle handling of Posada and other right-wing Cubans connected to terrorist acts against the communist government of Fidel Castro is in marked contrast to George W. Bush’s harsh treatment of Islamic militants captured during the “global war on terror.”
While suspected Islamic terrorists are locked away indefinitely at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and can undergo “alternative interrogation techniques,” Posada has been afforded all U.S. legal protections and then some.
Bush has refused to extradite Posada to Venezuela or Cuba, where he is sought on other terrorism charges for masterminding the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airliner killing all 73 people on board, including the young Cuban national fencing team.
During a court hearing in Texas on Posada, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela where he held citizenship and once worked as an intelligence officer. The judge, therefore, barred Posada to be deported there.
After that ruling, Venezuela’s Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez accused the Bush administration of applying “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”
It now appears the Bush administration also was sitting on evidence implicating Posada in more recent acts of terrorism, the 1997 hotel bombings in Havana.
The Associated Press reported that the FBI document, now filed with the court, cited “confidential sources,” including one source saying that two Posada associates at a Guatemalan utility company spoke about plans to assassinate Castro. The source then planted a listening device in an office and picked up conversations about smuggling a “putty-like explosive” into Cuba in the shoes of operatives posing as tourists, the document said.
The source added that another employee of the utility company found 22 plastic tubes in a closet in August 1997 labeled "high-powered explosives, extremely dangerous." The explosives were being mixed into shampoo bottles, the employee said.
According to the AP, the confidential source provided the FBI with a fax about wire transfers from individuals in New Jersey that was signed Solo, one of Posada’s aliases. The FBI concluded that at least $19,000 in wire transfers connected to the hotel bombings were sent from the United States to El Salvador and Guatemala to a "Ramon Medina," the code name used by Posada in the 1980s when he worked on the Iran-Contra operations overseen by White House aide Oliver North. [AP, May 4, 2007]
In 1998, in interviews with a New York Times reporter, Posada admitted a role in the Havana bombings, citing a goal of frightening tourists away from Cuba. But Posada later denied making the admissions. He also has denied masterminding the 1976 airliner bombing in collusion with another notorious Cuban exile, Orlando Bosch, who is living in Miami, too, with the help and protection of the Bush family.
Not only did the Bush administration take a dive during Posada’s deportation hearing by letting the Venezuela torture claim go unchallenged, but also it ignored Bosch’s statement a year ago, when he justified the 1976 mid-air bombing in a TV interview with reporter Manuel Cao on Miami’s Channel 41.
“Did you down that plane in 1976?” Cao asked Bosch.
“If I tell you that I was involved, I will be inculpating myself,” Bosch answered, “and if I tell you that I did not participate in that action, you would say that I am lying. I am therefore not going to answer one thing or the other.”
But when Cao asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the plane crashed off the coast of Barbados, Bosch responded, "In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”
“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked.
“Who was on board that plane?” Bosch responded. “Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese.” [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]
Bosch added, “Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies…”
“And the fencers?” Cao asked about Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people on board?”
Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. … She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.
“We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.” [The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a strategy meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976.]
“If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult?” Cao asked.
“No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba,” Bosch answered.
Beyond Bosch’s incriminating statements about the Cubana Airlines bombing, other evidence of his and Posada’s guilt is overwhelming.
Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana Airlines plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.
But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in anti-communist Cuban extremists Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP.
The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”
On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.
“Following the 6 October Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”
In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.
A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.
Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.
After the Reagan-Bush administration took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. The Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.
In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison, reportedly with the help of Cuban exiles. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for providing the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.
Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Rodriguez then was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, a pet project of President Ronald Reagan.
After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run contra-supply operation.
When one of the contra-supply planes was shot down inside Nicaragua in October 1986, Posada was responsible for alerting U.S. officials to the crisis and then shutting down the operation’s safe houses in El Salvador. Even after the exposure of Posada’s role in the contra-supply operation, the U.S. government made no effort to bring the accused terrorist to justice.
By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.
But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb's dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.
In 1992, also during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras.
Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret contra operation. According toa 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.
“Posada … recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy to freedom. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & Project Truth.]
Posada soon returned to his anti-Castro plotting.
In 1994, Posada set out to kill Castro during a trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Posada and five cohorts reached Cartagena, but the plan flopped when security cordons prevented the would-be assassins from getting a clean shot at Castro, according to a Miami Herald account. [Miami Herald, June 7, 1998]
The Herald also described Posada’s role in a lethal 1997 bombing campaign against popular hotels and restaurants inside Cuba. The story cited documentary evidence that Posada arranged payments to conspirators from accounts in the United States.
“This afternoon you will receive via Western Union four transfers of $800 each … from New Jersey,” said one fax signed by SOLO, a Posada alias.
Posada landed back in jail in 2000 after Cuban intelligence uncovered a plot to assassinate Castro by planting a bomb at a meeting the Cuban leader planned with university students in Panama.
Panamanian authorities arrested Posada and other alleged co-conspirators in November 2000. In April 2004, they were sentenced to eight or nine years in prison for endangering public safety.
Four months after the sentencing, however, lame-duck Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso – who lives in Key Biscayne, Florida, and has close ties to the Cuban-American community and to George W. Bush’s administration – pardoned the convicts.
After the pardons and just two months before Election 2004, three of Posada’s co-conspirators – Guillermo Novo Sampol, Pedro Remon and Gaspar Jimenez – arrived in Miami to a hero’s welcome, flashing victory signs at their supporters.
While the terrorists celebrated, U.S. authorities watched the men – also implicated in bombings in New York, New Jersey and Florida – alight on U.S. soil. Washington Post writer Marcela Sanchez noted in a September 2004 article about the Panamanian pardons that “there is something terribly wrong when the United States, after Sept. 11 (2001), fails to condemn the pardoning of terrorists and instead allows them to walk free on U.S. streets.” [Washington Post, Sept. 3, 2004]
Posada reportedly sneaked into the United States in early 2005 and his presence was an open secret in Miami for weeks before U.S. authorities did anything. The New York Times summed up Bush’s dilemma if Posada decided to seek U.S. asylum.
“A grant of asylum could invite charges that the Bush administration is compromising its principle that no nation should harbor suspected terrorists,” the Times wrote. “But to turn Mr. Posada away could provoke political wrath in the conservative Cuban-American communities of South Florida, deep sources of support and campaign money for President Bush and his brother, Jeb.” [NYT, May 9, 2005]
Only after Posada called a news conference to announce his presence was the Bush administration shamed into arresting him. But even then, the administration balked at sending Posada back to Venezuela where the government of Hugo Chavez – unlike some of its predecessors – was eager to prosecute.
The Posada-Bosch cases point to one unavoidable and unpleasant conclusion: that the Bush family regards terrorism – defined as killing civilians for a political reason – as justified or at least tolerable in cases when their interests match those of the terrorists.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'