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Lawyer Seeks Asylum, Venue Change for Cuban Exile

He argues that hearings for Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA employee linked to a 1976 airline bombing, should be moved to Miami.

June 14, 2005|Nicole Gaouette and Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writers

EL PASO — The lawyer for a Cuban exile accused of terrorism asked an immigration court Monday to grant his client asylum, release him on bond and move future hearings to Miami.

Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA employee and anti-Castro militant, has been tied to the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane that killed 73 people. The hearing, held to address charges that Posada illegally entered the United States in March, yielded no significant decisions apart from the dates of future hearings.

El Paso immigration Judge William L. Abbott is expected to issue a written ruling on the venue request in the next few days.

The bond hearing is to be held June 24.

Posada's case poses a challenge for the Bush administration and its anti-terrorism policy. The CIA trained Posada to take part in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and he worked for the agency in Miami. Later, he worked for Venezuelan intelligence and helped the United States arm the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

"His trial is about a man's right to seek asylum in the U.S.," Posada's lawyer, Eduardo Soto, said outside a federal detention center in El Paso. "I don't know if it's an embarrassment to the government. [Posada] has been a faithful soldier for the United States for quite a long time."

Gray-haired and stooped, Posada, 77, shuffled into the courtroom wearing a red prison jumpsuit and a bulletproof vest. He used headphones to hear Spanish translations of the arguments by three government lawyers and by Soto, who is representing him pro bono.

Posada made no comment other than answering, "Si senor," in response to questions from the judge.

Since shortly after his arrest in Miami last month, Posada has been held at the detention facility in El Paso.

Soto argued that proceedings should be moved to Miami because Posada's wife and children were there, and because the distance from Miami affected Soto's ability to adequately prepare Posada for hearings. Soto's offices are in Coral Gables, Fla., a suburb of Miami.

Soto noted that despite government concern about reaction in Miami, there had been no protests. A survey conducted last month found that Cubans in the United States divided along generational lines when asked about Posada. Many older Cubans in this country tend to see him as a hero, and many younger ones see him as a terrorist.

Posada spent about nine years in a Venezuelan jail, during which he was tried and acquitted twice for the Cubana de Aviacion bombing. He escaped in 1985 while awaiting a third trial.

Last week, Venezuelan officials presented the United States with new documents tying him to the bombing.

Venezuela is expected to submit an extradition request for Posada within days. The United States rejected a Venezuelan extradition request two weeks ago, saying it wasn't detailed enough.

On Friday, the private National Security Archive released declassified CIA documents from 1976 that quoted Posada as saying, "We are going to hit a Cuban airplane."

If the case remains in El Paso, the court is to hold a hearing Aug. 29 to determine whether Posada abandoned his permanent residence status by spending as much time as he did outside the United States.

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