April 21, 2007
A Terrorist Goes Free
By BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA
AFTER the attacks of Sept. 11, President Bush forcefully argued that it was every country’s duty to
fight international terrorism. He made the case that sponsoring terrorism or simply looking the other
way when it happened were equivalent acts, and the United States would stand for neither. But holes
have started appearing in that principle, courtesy of a single Venezuelan terrorist, released this
week from a New Mexico prison on bail.
In early 2005, Luis Posada Carriles, a Venezuelan with a long history of violent attacks in Latin
America, sneaked into the United States and was soon arrested. Mr. Posada had escaped from a
Venezuelan prison while awaiting trial in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73
people, including all 24 members of Cuba’s youth fencing team and several Guyanese medical
students. This was the deadliest attack on a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere in history
— until 9/11.
Upon Mr. Posada’s capture, the government of President Hugo Chávez demanded his extradition. But
the Bush administration has refused to extradite Mr. Posada to Venezuela or Cuba, claiming that it
fears he will be tortured in those countries. In fact, Washington’s reluctance is more likely
linked to Mr. Posada’s history as a Central Intelligence Agency operative and a darling of
extremist sectors of the powerful Cuban-American community in Florida (he tried to assassinate Fidel
Castro with C-4 explosives placed in an auditorium packed with students in Panama in 2000). Twenty-
two months have passed since Venezuela formally asked for his extradition, offering 2,000 pages of
documentary evidence to substantiate its claim, yet the State Department has not even acknowledged
receiving the request.
Nor has Mr. Posada been charged with the 1976 attack, even though declassified Central Intelligence
Agency documents indicate that his role has long been accepted as fact. Instead, he faces charges of
immigration fraud, a travesty that could be equaled only by charging Osama bin Laden with entering
and leaving Pakistan without a visa. Finally, Mr. Posada was released on bail on Thursday, even
though he is an obvious flight risk and a violent terrorist.
Of course, Mr. Posada’s case isn’t the first instance related to Venezuela in which the Bush
administration has set aside its principles for political expediency. Five years ago last week, the
Bush administration gleefully welcomed a coup that overthrew President Chávez, replacing him with a
junta that suspended the Constitution, dismissed the National Assembly and dissolved the Supreme
Court. Thankfully, the Venezuelan people ensured that their democratically elected president was
returned to power two days later.
Just as the Bush administration’s support for the Venezuelan junta undermined its pledge to uphold
and promote democracy around the world, allowing Mr. Posada to avoid prosecution for a vicious attack
he can credibly be accused of masterminding throws into doubt the sincerity of President Bush’s war
on terrorism. Mr. Posada is a terrorist, regardless of the cause he fought for or the allies he might
have. The Bush administration’s foot-dragging on his extradition and its failure to even classify
him as a terrorist is unconscionable.
Last week, Venezuelans celebrated the return of democracy after the coup against President Chávez.
But they continue to mourn the 73 people killed aboard that civilian airliner. If President Bush is
serious about the principles he set out after 9/11, he need only look to Venezuela and correct the
mistakes he can. The coup has passed, but the chance to extradite or prosecute Mr. Posada hasn’t.
Bernardo Álvarez Herrera is Venezuela’s ambassador