Terrorist walks free

Published : May 18, 2007 00:00 IST

Luis Posada Carriles and his daughter Janet Arguello arrive in Miami on April 19.-WILFREDO LEE/AP

Luis Posada Carriles and his daughter Janet Arguello arrive in Miami on April 19.-WILFREDO LEE/AP

International terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is out of prison after a United States district court rules that he can be released on bail.

THE release from a United States prison of Luis Posada Carriles, a notorious fugitive from international justice, has once again highlighted the double standards on terrorism of the administration of President George W. Bush.

Carriles, who was born in Cuba in 1928, is no ordinary criminal. He left Cuba soon after the 1959 revolution along with other collaborators of the overthrown dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Carriles then embarked on a career devoted to undermining the progressive governments in the region. He joined secretive right-wing terrorist groups involved in attacking Cuban and Soviet targets. From 1967 to 1976, Carriles worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), from Caracas. The government in Caracas at the time was a pro-U.S. one, actively involved in the suppression of left-wing movements in the region. Carriles was also given Venezuelan citizenship. In 1971, he was the ringleader of a CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro when the Cuban leader was on a visit to Chile, Peru and Ecuador. After the failed attempt, Carriles and his associates started sending parcel bombs to Cuban embassies and consulates in the region.

In 1976, Carriles along with another equally notorious terrorist of Cuban origin, Orlando Bosch, founded the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organisation (CORU). In the same year, the group was involved in the bombing of the Cuban embassy in Portugal. Two Cuban diplomats were killed in that incident. The group then went on to target the offices of Cubana Airlines in the Caribbean. Carriles's most heinous crime was the planting of a bomb on a Cuban passenger plane. There is evidence to prove that Carriles played a key role in the downing of the Cuban civilian plane with 73 passengers on board, off Barbados in 1976. Carriles was convicted for this crime in the mid-1970s by a Venezuelan court and was incarcerated in a high-security Venezuelan jail from 1976 to 1985. With the help of the powerful Cuban-U.S. lobby in Florida and the U.S. Intelligence services, he was sprung from his cell in 1985.

Within weeks, he was once again working for the U.S. He became a close associate of Oliver North, who played a key role in the illegal funding, arming and training of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The Contras were involved in many terrorist acts against the popularly elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua. After the activities of North and company were exposed in the "Iran-Contragate" scandal, Carriles shifted to El Salvador, where the CIA was assisting the right-wing government to suppress a popular left-wing insurrection. Carriles's job was to train the local police in counter-insurgency activities. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians were killed in brutal civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala. Carriles was active in counter-insurgency activities in both countries.

In 1994, Carriles was again involved in a failed attempt on the life of Castro, in the town of Cartagena in Colombia. The attempt took place in the city centre when Castro was on a walk with his friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the famous writer. In 1998, Carriles, in an interview with The New York Times, boasted about the attacks his group had made on Cuban tourism resorts. In November 2000, Carriles, travelling on a forged passport, attempted to organise another assassination attempt against Castro, in Panama during the Ibero-American Summit. The Panamanian authorities, however, foiled the plot and detained Carriles along with three of his associates. They were sentenced to long prison terms. But after serving less than four years in prison, Carriles and his associates were given amnesty by Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso during her last days in office. It is said that millions of dollars changed hands to facilitate the release of Carriles in August 2004.

Carriles was flown to Honduras from where he entered the U.S. in March 2005 and promptly requested political asylum. The Bush administration wanted his arrival in Miami to be kept under wraps. However, the Cuban authorities were aware of the old terrorist's movements. Castro, in a special television appearance on April 11, 2005, revealed that Washington was attempting to protect Carriles. In another speech, Castro quoted from a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report that acknowledged the complicity of Carriles and Bosch in the assassination of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American secretary on a busy Washington street in 1976. Letelier was a close associate of late Chilean President Salvador Allende.

Two months later, following widespread domestic and international criticism, the U.S. authorities arrested Carriles and put him in a detention centre where illegal immigrants are confined. At the same time, the then Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Ali Rodriguez, demanded that Carriles be repatriated to Caracas to serve the remainder of his jail term and face trial for his crimes. But the pleas of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments and the families of those who perished owing to the terrorist acts perpetrated by Carriles and his gang were in vain. A U.S. district judge ruled in the first week of April that Carriles should be released on bail. The only charge that the judge has accepted against Carriles is that of "immigration violation". An article in New York's Daily News noted that "while thousands of poor, decent and hard-working immigrants are kept detained in terrible conditions, a dangerous man with a long criminal history" was freed.

Castro, in the third article he has written since his recovery from illness, condemned the decision to release Carriles. He wrote that the decision was taken with the knowledge of Bush. "It was President Bush who ignored at all times the criminal and terrorist side of the accused," wrote Castro, noting that Carriles was only being charged with the violation of U.S. immigration laws. Castro went on to add that the response of the U.S. administration was "brutal". Castro compared the treatment meted out to a known terrorist with that being administered to the five Cuban patriots currently languishing in U.S. jails. The crime of the Cuban Five, as they are known, was to expose the terrorist plots being hatched on U.S. soil against Cuba.

The Cuban government, in an official statement, condemned the decision to release Carriles. The government termed the decision as an insult to the Cuban people and other nations who lost their sons and daughters in the 1976 bombing of the Cuban civilian aircraft. It said that the least the U.S. government could have done was to certify Carriles a terrorist in conformity with Section 412 of the U.S. Patriot Act. The statement noted that Judge Kathleen Cardone herself had noted that Carriles was accused "of being involved in or associated with some of the most infamous events of the 20th century. Some of these acts include the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Iran-Contra scandal, the mid-air explosion of Cubana de Aviacion flight 455, the 1997 bombs planted in tourist resorts in Havana and, according to some conspiracy theorists, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy".

The Cuban authorities are sure about the reasons for the release of the terrorist. "For Cuba there is a clear answer. The terrorist's release has been concocted by the White House as compensation for Posada Carriles not to reveal what he knows, not to talk about the countless secrets he keeps on his protracted period as an agent of the U.S. Special Services, when he was involved in Operation Condor, in the dirty war against Cuba, against Nicaragua and against other peoples of the world." George Bush Sr. was the CIA chief in 1976 when the Cuban plane was blown up in mid-air.

A declaration released on April 20 by the Committee of Relatives of the Victims of the Cubana Airliner Sabotage in Barbados said that the decision to allow Carriles to go free was the clearest demonstration of the double standards the U.S. government adopts in its fight against terrorism. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also expressed similar sentiments.

The Bush administration maintained that Carriles would not be given a fair and free trial in Venezuela and Cuba. The two countries had reconciled to a trial in the U.S. but expressed the hope that it would be a fair one. The two governments were prepared to send evidence as well as credible witnesses to testify in the trial. The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, said that "the misguided decision" of the court had exposed Washington "to legitimate charges of hypocrisy in the war on terror".

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has issued a statement emphasising its "great concern" about the news regarding the release of Carriles. The statement focussed on the fact that though the government of Venezuela had demanded the extradition of Carriles on terrorism charges the U.S. has detained him "under a simple accusation of immigration violation, while the Venezuelan request has been ignored".

The statement said that all states should fulfil their obligations under international law. The NAM statement reiterated its support for the extradition request of Venezuela to bring Carriles to justice.

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