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Cuban militant must stand trial in the U.S.

The Nation

The immigration case here in effect blocks his extradition to Venezuela to face terrorism charges.

August 15, 2008|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles should stand trial for an alleged immigration violation in the United States. The decision is likely to inflame Cuba and Venezuela, which want to prosecute him for terrorism in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was expected to take the pressure off the Bush administration to respond to Venezuela's demands that Posada, who lives in Miami, be extradited to face trial for the bombing. The plane, en route from Venezuela to Havana, exploded in flight shortly after making a stop in Barbados. All 73 people aboard were killed.

At the time, Posada lived in Caracas, Venezuela's capital, and held joint Cuban and Venezuelan citizenship. Venezuela was a U.S. ally.

Posada, 80, worked for the CIA during the Cold War and has been tied to covert "black operations" in Latin America. His Miami lawyer has intimated that the man considered a freedom fighter by many fellow Cuban exiles could reveal information embarrassing to the government, including former President George H.W. Bush, who was director of central intelligence during part of Posada's CIA service.

Posada's communications with the spy agency -- disclosed in declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University -- show that he told his handlers in Washington of plans to "hit" a Cuban airliner days before the Oct. 6, 1976, explosion. The incident is considered to be the first case of air terrorism in the Americas.

Venezuela had tried Posada for the bombing in the 1980s, but he was acquitted on a technicality. The government kept him in a Caracas jail pending retrial, but he escaped in 1985.

Panama convicted Posada of conspiracy in a 2000 attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. But in 2004, the outgoing Panamanian president pardoned him and three other Cuban exiles from Miami in what was perceived as a favor to President Bush in an election year.

Posada made his way to the U.S. and was arrested in May 2005 for illegal entry. Venezuela demanded that the notorious anti-communist be extradited for retrial in the bombing.

Instead, in January 2007, a federal grand jury in West Texas indicted Posada on immigration fraud charges.

That immigration case was thrown out last year by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso on grounds of government misconduct. Thursday's appeals court panel rejected Cardone's ruling and ordered the case to trial.

Shortly after Posada's 2005 arrest, a U.S. immigration judge ruled that he could not be sent to Venezuela or Cuba because he could face torture there. The State Department sought to deport him elsewhere, but at least seven friendly nations have declined to take in the renowned militant.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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