Editor’s Note: This piece appeared first in La Jornada, the national Mexican daily. It was translated by Machetera/Tlaxcala.
Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA employee, veteran of the failed invasion of Cuba, support operative for the Nicaraguan Contras and the accused mastermind behind the worst terrorist attacks in Latin America and the Caribbean, was acquitted last Friday in a federal court in El Paso, Texas—but only on charges related with lying to immigration authorities, and not for his long history of violence, for which justice authorities in Venezuela and other countries are still seeking his extradition.
After a trial that dragged on for thirteen weeks, and only three hours after beginning deliberations, the jury reached a unanimous “not guilty” verdict on each one of the eleven counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud.
The verdict marks the end of the US government’s prosecution of Posada Carriles, begun four years ago when he was accused of entering the United States illegally, and now all indications are that he will continue living happily in Miami, where he is considered a hero. At the end of the trial, he left the courthouse a free man.
Now the only pending legal action remaining against him is Venezuela’s extradition request to try him on seventy-three counts of murder, as he is accused of organizing the most serious terrorist attack in Latin America: the 1976 bombing of the Cubana de Aviación passenger airliner.
The US Justice Department expressed that it was “disappointed by the decision” of the jury in El Paso. But José Pertierra, the attorney who is representing the Venezuelan government in its efforts to extradite Posada Carriles, told La Jornada: “I suggest that the United States government not feel so disappointed and extradite him instead.”
The case in El Paso arose from his illegal entry into the United States in 2005, where he first applied for political asylum and later for citizenship.
Federal prosecutors accused Posada Carriles of lying about the way he entered the country, as well as making statements denying his participation in terrorist activities, especially the bomb attacks on hotels and tourist sites in Cuba in 1997, which took the life of the Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo and left twelve others wounded.
Pertierra who attended the trial every day in El Paso, told La Jornada that the evidence presented during the trial was “overwhelming” in proving that Posada lied to immigration authorities about his entry into the United States as well as his role in the terrorist attacks against Cuba. He added that the recorded statements from Posada Carriles himself, as well as the testimony from multiple witnesses, “couldn’t have been clearer.”
These witnesses included expert forensic pathologists and Cuban investigators, associates of the accused, and even the reporter Ann Louise Bardach, who interviewed the previously convicted terrorist for the New York Times. In that interview, Posada Carriles admitted being the mastermind behind the attacks against the hotels in Cuba.
Pertierra said the verdict “did not surprise me,” indicating that “the show [the defense] put on, and the confusion that it generated among the jury, won out over the evidence.”
Explaining how it was possible that a “not guilty” verdict could be reached for Posada Carriles despite the introduction of witnesses, tape recordings and interviews that proved his culpability on the lying, perjury and obstruction charges, Pertierra indicated that jury trials in this country are part of “a failed system,” with outcomes similar to this one and as the whole world could see in the O.J. Simpson case some years ago. He said that jury members—citizens selected by the defense as well as the prosecution—are often ignorant of the context of the case they are asked to decide, and often easily confused and subject to all kinds of manipulation by the attorneys. Also, the prolongation of this trial for up to three months even though the charges did not merit such a lengthy procedure was part of the defense strategy to “overwhelm” the jury with the goal of making it almost “deaf and blind” by the end. Finally, with the judge’s authorization, the defense managed to hold “mini-trials within the main trial, against Cuba and Cuban prosecution witnesses” and in this way deviate the focus from the accused to the accusers, going so far as to accuse them of torture and other violations.
Although the trial was notable for being the first time in United States that the government presented proof against its former employee (he was a CIA agent until 1976, and later collaborated in Washington’s secret war channeling assistance to the Nicaraguan Contra forces in the 1980s), it’s worth emphasizing that Posada Carriles has never been formally accused, much less prosecuted on US soil, for his participation in terrorist actions. The trial in El Paso was solely limited to his lies about his role in some of those attacks. This, despite US authorities having qualified him as a terrorist suspect and placing him on the official no-fly list for commercial flights in this country.
In addition to working for the CIA, it’s worth recalling that Posada Carriles participated in the US-supported invasion of the Bay of Pigs; that he was an officer in the US Army and that in 1976 he moved to Venezuela to head the intelligence service in that country. That same year he was arrested after being accused of being the mastermind of the attack on the Cuban airliner, and escaped before facing a civil trial for what was at the time the worst terrorist act in the hemisphere. In 2001, he was arrested in Panama, for planning to kill Fidel Castro with 200 pounds of dynamite and C-4 explosives, in a university auditorium filled with students in 2000, but was pardoned by then–Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso in 2004, showing up a short time later in the United States. In 2005 he was arrested here, which led to the beginning of the process that ended last Friday in El Paso with his acquittal.
“I haven’t reached the end of the road; the nature of the struggle has changed, but it is still the same,” said Posada Carriles after the trial concluded, according to AFP. He added that he would dedicate himself, in a peaceful way, to “restoring what Cuba used to be.”
For more information about his “road,” documents from the CIA and other US agencies detailing the career of Posada Carriles can be found at the website for the National Security Archive, the center for research and documentation.
Pertierra said that the Venezuelan government will continue to demand that the US government fulfill its obligations and respond to the extradition request for Posada Carriles.
“The seventy-three murder charges in Caracas are more important than eleven charges of perjury in El Paso,” said Pertierra.