Friday, December 17, 2010

Buddies in Arms (and bomb conspiracies)

IT'S a happy picture, the two old friends and comrades in arms meeting in Miami. The man on the left is Orlando Bosch Avila, his buddy is Luis Posada Carriles, and if those names don't ring a bell straight away, because they have not been in the news much here, they will mean something to a lot of people in Cuba and other countries.

On October 6, 1976 Cubana airlines Flight 455 was destroyed, plunging into the sea soon after takeoff from Barbados. Two time bombs had exploded in the aircraft. All 73 people on board the plane were killed, , including young members of the Cuban national fencing team, and five North Koreans.

Earlier that year Orlando Letelier, former Chilean Foreign Minister driven into exile by Pinochet, was murdered by a car bombing in Washington. In 1978 a former CIA agent, Michael Townley, was convicted of carrying out the bombing on behalf of the Chilean secret police, DINA, but he eventually walked free, under the US Federal Witness Protection Programme, having testified against his Chilean associates.

Luis Posada Cariles , and perhaps Orlando Bosch Avila, had attended a meeting with Townley where the Letelier killing was planned. Bosch entered Venezuela in mid-September 1976 under the protection of the then Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez. A CIA document described a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in Caracas, to support Bosch's activities. The informant quoted Bosch as making an offer to Venezuelan officials to avoid acts of violence in the United States when President Carlos Andres Perez visited the United Nations in November, in return for "a substantial cash contribution to [Bosch's] organization."

Bosch was also overheard stating: "Now that our organization has come out of the Letelier job looking good, we are going to try something else." Several days later, Posada was reported to have stated that "we are going to hit a Cuban airplane" and "Orlando has the details."

Bosch was arrested in Caracas on 8 October 1976, and held for nearly four years while awaiting trial for his role concerning the Cubana Flight 455 bombing. He was acquitted along with three-codefendants (one of them Luis Posada Carriles) of these charges in September 1980, with the court finding that the flight had been brought down by a bomb but that there was insufficient evidence to prove the defendants were responsible.] Bosch was convicted of possessing false identification papers, and sentenced to 4.5 months, set against time already served. Defending himself, he would later say, infamously, "All of Castro's planes are warplanes."

“ Guys such as Bosch make it easy for the Cuban government to claim that the United States harbors, or at least tolerates, anti-Castro terrorists. ”

— Miami New Times
Miami area law enforcement officials linked Bosch to several dynamite bombings, including a blast in the offices of Mackey Airlines in 1977, after the airline announced plans to resume flights to Cuba.

In 1987, Bosch was freed from Venezuelan charges and went to the United States, assisted by US Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich; there, he was ultimately arrested for a parole violation. Bosch was detained in the United States for six months until all charges were dropped and he was able to live in the United States freely. It has been alleged that Bosch was pardoned by President Bush, and protected by the Bush family. Bush senior had been head of the CIA when Bosch's crimes had been committed and Cuban emigres in Miami lobbied Florida governor Jeb Bush to have his father intervene.

Luis Posada Cariles was involved in the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban emigres. After its failure the CIA took him to Fort Benning for training in sabotage and explosives, then set him to work with the Cubans in Miami. But after some problems with the US backers which led to him being questioned about his "unreported association with gangster elements", Posada relocated to Venezuela, in 1968, taking with him CIA supplied weapons including grenades and fuses.

Becoming a naturalised Venezuelan citizen, Posada became chief of operations of the Venezuelan DISIP, tasked with suppressing leftwing guerrillas. He was joined in Venezuela by fellow Cuban Bosch. The CIA became concerned that their former protege was combining his security work with cocaine trafficking, and in 1974 Posada was dismissed from his Venezuelan post. There were suspicions that he was involved in a plot to assassinate Kissinger, then seen as too soft on Cuba. The CIA was already under pressure at home to clean up its act, and needed to distance itself from rogue operators.

Posada formed a private detective agency in Caracas. Two of its men, Freddy Lugo and Herman Ricardo Lozano, were implicated in the Cuban airliner bombing, and confessed. A declassified FBI report says: "Our confidential source ascertained (...) that the bombing of the Cubana Airlines DC-8 was planned, in part, in Caracas, Venezuela, at two meetings attended by Morales Navarrete, Luis Posada Carriles and Frank Castro". Posada and Bosch were arrested. Bosch was to be held four years before his trial and acquittal, but Posada had already escaped, to start a second career with his old bosses, under the Reagan administration.

Based in in El Salvador, Posada worked with Felix Rodriguez, a CIA operative who had overseen the capture of Che Guevera. They coordinated arms supplies to the Contras, right-wing gangs financed by the Reagan administration to carry out raids and murder in Nicaragua. Posada was paid $3,000 per month plus expenses from U.S. Major General Richard Secord, who was directing operations for Oliver North. The subsequent Iran-Contra investigations shed light into this major US operation. Several of Posada's connections, including Félix Rodríguez were asked to testify. But Posada remained in El Salvador, and signed up as a security adviser to the notoriously brutal Guatemalan regime.

In February 1990 Posada was shot while sitting in his car in Guatemala City by unknown assailants, but unfortunately he survived, and his medical bills were looked after by the Cuban emigres and the Americans.
In 1997, Posada was implicated in a further series of terrorist bombings in Cuba aimed at tourist hotels and restaurants. An Italian-Canadian, Fabio di Celmo, was killed and 11 people wounded as a result. In a taped interview with The New York Times, Posada said: "It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop." Aiming to frighten tourists from going to Cuba, Posada was reportedly disappointed with the reluctance of American news organisations to report the bombing attacks, saying "If there is no publicity, the job is useless".

Loose tongue and keenness on publicity may prove Posada's undoing, as poor attention to tax returns did for Al Capone. In 2000 he was caught with explosives in Panama, accused of plotting to kill Castro during the Cuban leader's visit. A pro-US president let him get off in 2004, and once again the Bush connection is said to have helped. But arriving in Texas to claim asylum, Posada was detained by US immigration authorities, and then the Department of Homeland Security, though the US authorities refused an extradition request for him from Venezuela, on the grounds that he might be tortured there. No 'extraordinary rendition' there then!

The Venezuelan government has understandably accused the US of having a "double standard in its so-called war on terrorism" , harbouring terrorists and attributing methods to others which it has itself practised at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The US government sought to deport Posada elsewhere, but at least seven friendly nations refused to accept him. Under the 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation the US is obligated to prosecute Posada for the alleged acts of terror.

Luis Posada Carriles was released from jail after paying bond on April 19, 2007. The US Fifth District Court of Appeals in New Orleans rejected a Justice Department request Posada be refused bail for entering the U.S. illegally and he was escorted by Federal agents to Miami where Cuban emigres welcomed him as a hero. patriot. Posada was required to remain under 24-hour house arrest at his wife's apartment in Miami until trial, with permission to leave only to meet with attorneys or for doctor's appointments. On May 8, 2007 U.S. district judge Kathleen Cardone dismissed seven counts of immigration fraud and ordered Posada's electronic bracelet removed.

The photo of Bosch and Posada was taken by reporter and researcher Tracey Eaton from the Along the Malecon website during the launch of a book by Bosch on December 9. The launch took place in the University of Miami's Institute of Cuban American Studies, which is subsidised by USAID (US official agency which uses foreign aid to promote US aims) and run by a former CIA analyst.

In 2009, a federal grand jury issued an indictment, the first US reference to the 1997 bombings in Cuba. On April 9, 2009 The Miami Herald reported:

"The superseding indictment from the grand jury in El Paso does not charge Posada, 81, with planting the bombs or plotting the bombings but with lying in an immigration court about his role in the attacks at hotels, bars and restaurants in the Havana area. The perjury counts were added to the previous indictment that accused Posada of lying in his citizenship application about how he got into the United States. Another new charge is obstruction of a U.S. investigation into "international terrorism.""

Posada is being accused of lying to U.S. authorities and is due to go on trial next month in El Paso, Texas. It will be the first time evidence from the Cuban authorities and the FBI will be presented linking the former CIA operative with the Havana bombings. A judge has also ruled that taped evidence can be heard, including Posada's interview with a New York Times freelance journalist boasting about the Havana hotel bombings.

But there are still powerful interests and lobby groups in America who support Luis Posada Cariles, and enough old co-workers in the intelligence establishment, who would sooner this case was closed.

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