It’s Time for Obama to Send Home This Mass-Murdering Cuban Terrorist-in-Exile to Face His Punishment
He’s been sunning himself in Miami for far too long.
- By James BamfordJames Bamford is a columnist for Foreign Policy and the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. He also writes and produces documentaries for PBS.
Along the western shore of Barbados, overlooking the turquoise waters of Paynes Bay, sits an 11-foot-tall granite obelisk. Its inscription reads, “In memory of those who lost their lives in the bombing of the Cubana DC-8 aircraft, flight CUT 1201 which crashed in the sea off Barbados on October 6th, 1976. May their souls rest in peace.” Engraved in the stone are the names of the 73 victims of one of the Western Hemisphere’s worst-ever aviation attacks.
The obelisk is also a testament to the culpability and hypocrisy of multiple U.S. presidential administrations that took no action when intelligence presaged the attack and, later, allowed the masterminds to live in America, buoyed by the support of conservative politicians. One of these criminals, Cuban exile and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, remains free in Miami.
With the renewal of diplomatic relations, U.S. officials are demanding that Cuba extradite long-wanted fugitives who found safe haven under Fidel Castro’s regime. A White House official recently told NBC News that Washington has “repeatedly raised those cases with the Cuban government.” America, however, must dismantle its own double standard—starting with Posada.
In the early 1960s, Posada participated in the Bay of Pigs and other covert CIA operations to unseat Castro. He and Orlando Bosch, his longtime collaborator, were also known terrorists. Details outlining many of their activities are contained in once-classified documents obtained in 2005 by the National Security Archive, a research group. Over four decades, Posada and Bosch were implicated in scores of attacks, including bombings of hotels and diplomatic establishments. They even helped plan the assassination of Castro ally Orlando Letelier in the streets of Washington; the former Chilean diplomat’s car was blown up, killing him and his American assistant.
These acts were staged under the auspices of the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), founded by Posada and Bosch, among others, in the mid-1970s. In secret reports from that era, the FBI describes CORU as a “terrorist umbrella organization” whose “groups agreed to jointly participate in the planning, financing, and carrying out of terrorist operations and attacks against Cuba.”
U.S. intelligence wasn’t just aware of CORU’s existence, however. On June 22, 1976, the CIA, led by George H.W. Bush, produced a confidential report titled “Possible Plans of Cuban Exile Extremists to Blow Up a Cubana Airliner.” It states: “A Cuban exile extremist group, of which Orlando Bosch is the leader, plans to place a bomb on a Cubana Airline flight traveling between Panama and Havana.” America, it seems, didn’t share this information with Cuba. Nearly four months later, the targeted flight, bound for Cuba’s capital on a multistop route, exploded in the sky.
Evidence of CORU’s involvement mounted after the attack. An Oct. 14 CIA memo reports on a dinner in Caracas, Venezuela, that Posada, Bosch, and others had attended between late September and early October. (By then, Posada had been living in Venezuela for several years.) A “reliable” informant had overheard Bosch say, “Now that our organization has come out of the Letelier job looking good, we are going to try something else.” A few days later, according to the memo, Posada told associates, “[W]e are going to hit a Cuban airplane.”
Then, in a Nov. 2 FBI memo, an informant describes how the bombing was planned at meetings in Caracas’s Hotel Hilton Anauco, at which Posada was present. The source also reports that a Posada employee dispatched to plant the bomb called Bosch afterward with a message: “A bus with 73 dogs went off a cliff and all got killed.”
Based on the confessions of associates, Posada and Bosch were arrested in Caracas. Each remained behind bars as his case proceeded through the courts. Posada escaped from prison in 1985 and fled the country. He renewed his relationship with the CIA, eventually participating in the Iran-Contra affair, and later served four years in a Panamanian prison for plotting to assassinate Castro at a regional summit. On the order of a Venezuelan appeals court, Bosch was released in 1987, after which he made his way to Miami.
Bosch was no stranger to the Florida city: Two decades earlier, he had been convicted of firing a bazooka at a freighter in Miami’s harbor and, while on parole, had fled the United States. The Justice Department, knowing Bosch well, called for his deportation in 1989. It implicated him in 30 acts of sabotage across the Americas and claimed he had “repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death.” But Jeb Bush, then a Miami businessman with an eye on political office, abetted an effort to prevent Bosch’s removal. He organized a meeting between Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a far-right Cuban-American candidate for Congress who had praised Bosch as a hero, and his father, by then the U.S. president. The elder Bush subsequently ignored the Justice Department’s recommendation, allowing Bosch to stay. (Bosch died in 2011.)
In 2005, when Posada sneaked into the United States, he too was treated with kid gloves. He was arrested for violating immigration law but acquitted. A federal court denied extradition requests from Cuba and Venezuela on the grounds that the countries might torture Posada. (At the time, the U.S. government routinely engaged in the rendition of suspected terrorists, as well as waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.) Despite the Justice Department calling him “an unrepentant criminal,” Posada was left to live comfortably in Florida.
By then, Jeb Bush was the state’s governor and his brother was president. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush had declared, “Any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” America, it seemed, was immune to its own rules.
Today, there’s an opportunity to deliver long-overdue justice. Washington spent a decade issuing sanctions against Libya for its failure to turn over suspects in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Singing the same tune, U.S. officials finally could hand over Posada to the foreign authorities that want to try him. America has no functioning extradition treaty with Cuba, but Washington could send him back to his birthplace in an ad hoc diplomatic arrangement—or deliver Posada to Venezuela, where he became a naturalized citizen decades ago. Alternately, Washington could try him stateside. Federal law, amended in 2004, allows prosecution of suspected terrorists who’ve committed crimes abroad. Courts have jurisdiction merely if “an offender is brought into or found in the United States.”
Posada is easily located in sunny Miami. There’s no excuse for Washington to put off accountability any longer.
A version of this article originally appeared in the July/August issue of FP magazine under the title “Stand and Deliver.”
Illustration by Matthew Hollister