Cuban ‘bomber’ puts Bush on the spot

The arrest of accused airline bomber Luis Posada Carriles in Florida poses a thorny problem for United States President George Bush, who has vowed to battle terrorism anywhere, analysts said.

Federal agents arrested Posada Carriles (77) on Tuesday two hours after he held a press conference with selected reporters at a secret location in Miami.

Declassified US documents released last week link Posada Carriles to the bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976, in which 73 people died. They also said the CIA paid him $300 a month in the 1960s, and he worked for the CIA at least from 1965 until June 1976.

He has already been found guilty for an attempt to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro during a summit in Panama in 2000, but was pardoned in 2004.

Venezuela has demanded his extradition. They want Posada Carriles, a naturalised Venezuelan, to stand trial for the plane bombing, which happened over Venezuelan territory.

In 2000, Panama convicted and sentenced Posada Carriles to eight years in prison for trying to kill Castro at a summit in the Central American country, but he was pardoned in 2004.

Cuba also wants Posada Carriles for the 1997 bombings of Havana hotels, one of which killed an Italian tourist. Posada Carriles admitted in a New York Times interview that he plotted the bombings, though he later recanted the admission.

Declassified documents released last week link Posada Carriles to the plane bombing and show that he worked for the CIA at least from 1965 until June 1976.

No extradition thus far

Washington has so far avoided extraditing Posada Carriles, citing doubts about Venezuela’s court system or that Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez would send the suspect to Cuba, where he would likely face execution.

”The Bush administration, the White House, is on the horns of a dilemma, because on the one hand they don’t want to hand Posada Carriles over to antagonist countries, either Cuba or Venezuela, but obviously it’s not acceptable to just let him remain free in Miami,” said Dan Erickson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think-tank.

”He’s obviously not concerned that the US government may hand him over for extradition,” he said.

Posada Carriles granted an interview that ran in the Tuesday edition of El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish version of The Miami Herald. On Tuesday afternoon, he held the ”secret” press conference.

”By giving these media interviews, Posada Carriles turned himself into a political hot potato that the US had no option but to catch,” Erickson said.

”The preference clearly was to try to stay out of this case, but that just became impossible once he’s giving this high-profile front-page interviews,” he added.

The options seem to be to keep him in custody in a legal limbo — since he faces no crimes in the US — or to find a third country to send him to.

”There’s always an option, of course, of actually putting him on trial” in the US, Erickson said. ”He might even be acquitted.”

Homeland Security officials have up to 48 hours to decide Posada Carriles’s migratory status. The alleged bomber claims to have illegally crossed the Mexican border into the US.

Up to now, US officials had said they did not know his whereabouts, and pointedly declined to describe him as a terrorist.

‘Not trivial’

For William Rogers, former US assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, the costs of not extraditing Posada Carriles ”are not trivial”.

A refusal to extradite him ”will be interpreted throughout the hemisphere as US acceptance of terrorism as long as the terrorist act was directed against a regime we don’t like”, said Rogers, writing in the bulletin of Inter-American Dialogue.

For Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a ”very destructive message will be sent if the White House lowers those standards for what the world will surely interpret as electoral reasons”.

The failure to treat Posada Carriles as a suspected terrorist ”would tell the Cuban people that while Washington stands for democracy, at times it also accommodates a tiny expatriate minority that would kill Cuban civilians to achieve it”, he said.

For Erickson, ”the question is, does the US really consider terrorism conducted against Cuba to be fundamentally different to the other types of terrorism that the US is fighting?”

”So far, the answer appears to be yes,” he said. — Sapa-AFP

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Laura Bonilla
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