On the night of April 8 US federal prosecutors filed an 11-count indictment in El Paso, Texas, charging that Cuban-born former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “asset” Luis Posada Carriles perjured himself and obstructed justice in 2005 when he told immigration authorities he was not involved in the bombing of two Havana hotels in 1997; Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo was killed in one of the attacks, at the Copacabana Hotel. Posada was quoted in a 1998 New York Times article as saying that he was in fact involved, and there is speculation that federal agents have found additional information linking him to the attacks. A New Jersey grand jury has also been investigating the bombings, although no charges have been filed in that case. Posada is scheduled to go on trial before US district judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso on Aug. 10.
This is the first time the US has filed charges connecting Posada to terrorist acts. Venezuela has been asking since 2005 for the US to extradite Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen who entered the US illegally that year, so that he can face trial on charges of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 people died. The US government has never acted on the extradition request. The US has ordered Posada deported, but since US immigration authorities refused to deport him either to Cuba or to Venezuela, he has been living in Miami on conditional release since 2007. The US charged him previously for immigration fraud not connected with the terrorism cases, but Judge Cardone threw the charges out on May 8, 2007 as “outrageous.” (Cuban authorities agreed with the judge, calling that case “phony” and “a charade.”) According to the Cuban newspaper Granma, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reinstated the charges in 2008, but apparently the new charges supersede the earlier ones.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías said on April 10 that the new indictment “seems like a good sign from the US, of the change that apparently is occurring,” but that noted that the trial will be for lying, not for the attacks themselves. “[T]hey’ve known that for some time, that he’s lying,” Chávez said. Cuban media called the indictment “a surprising change of strategy” and suggested that the US government’s “new posture” was connected to the Fifth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Trinidad and Tobago starting on April 17. Analysts expected the question of Venezuela’s extradition request to come up at the summit, US president Barack Obama’s first meeting with the heads of state of the hemisphere.
The indictment appears to be part of a broader US strategy to improve relations with Cuba. The Obama administration was expected to make an announcement in time for the summit that it is lifting restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban Americans and on remittances to relatives in Cuba; it may also allow more academic and cultural visits. On April 6 a delegation of US Congress members met with Cuban president Raúl Castro as part of a five-day visit to the island; they had a conversation the next day with former president Fidel Castro. On April 9 the rightwing Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which for decades has backed stronger restrictions, changed course and called for “people-to-people” exchanges.
Posada will be formally presented with the charges against him in El Paso on April 17, the first day of the Trinidad summit and the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs incident, the CIA’s failed 1961 attempt to overthrow Cuba’s Communist government. The anniversary may be “a legal Bay of Pigs” for Posada, remarked José Pertierra, the DC-based attorney who is handling the Venezuelan extradition request. (Prensa Latina, April 9; Time, April 10; La Jornada, Mexico, April 10; Latin American Herald Tribune, April 11; Miami Herald, April 10; Inter-Press Service, April 7; Reuters, April 7)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 12