WASHINGTON – The shocking bombing of a 73-passenger Cuban airliner Oct.,6,1976,is still making ripples of controversy more than 30 years later. If the tangled story was a movie,Luis Posada Carriles would be the leading man.
His biography mimics that of a character ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy thriller. He's wanted in Venezuela,charged in the bombing. But the U.S,where Carriles has been granted asylum,has refused to extradite him for fear he might be tortured.
This international drama also includes members of the Cuban exile community,who regard him as a freedom fighter for his tough stance against the Castro regime.
The antagonists in this saga are the members of a group called the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five.
The Cuban Five are five men who were employed by the government of Cuba to gather information about Miami-based terrorist attacks in Cuba. Supporters of the Cuban Five are frustrated because they believe Carriles is also the center of a Miami-based Cuban “terrorist network” that needs to be stopped.
The Five were arrested Sept. 12,1998,and convicted June 8,2001,on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage on the U.S. They remain in a federal prison,serving life sentences.
The plot thickened this week,with a protest in front of the White House and a demand for information about the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba that Cuban Five supporters say will prove he was illegally funneling money to a Carriles ally.
Wayne Smith,former chief of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana explained why it is so difficult for the U.S to deal with Cuba.
“I think the U.S. still tends to see Cuba as that little country that we should have occupied as of 1898. We have a very skewed emotional view in relation to Cuba. I hope we are getting over that. I hope that after the elections,there will be a greater possibility,assuming that Obama wins,” Smith said at a news conference Monday.
Smith served during the Carter administration and resigned in 1982 during the Regan administration because he opposed Reagan's Cuban policy. He is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy,a group of former diplomats and peace activists.
On Wednesday,frustrated protesters lined up in front of the White House and chanted “jail Posada and free the five.” They demanded that Carriles be extradited to Venezuela and the Cuban Five be released. They carried pictures of the 73 people killed in the crash.
Meanwhile,President Bush paid homage to Cuban political prisoners by issuing a presidential proclamation to remember those who are suffering in Cuba for their beliefs. He also called for the release of political prisoners of the Castro regime.
Members of the Cuban community who oppose the Castro regime criticize the National Committee for Free the Cuban Five for helping people they see as the enemy.
A prominent Cuban-American,Angel E. Garrido,who is vice president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights,attended an event at the White House to honor the family and friends of the political prisoners in Cuba. Protesters were outraged by the event because they believe that the people who attended are friends of Carriles and funded his terrorist activities.
“Let me put it to you like this: If the victims of the 9/11 families knew the terrorists that committed the 9/11 acts were being wined and dined by Bush,they would be outraged,” said Carlo Gentile,21,a supporter of Free the Cuban Five.
A frustrated Garrido shouted insults in Spanish as he walked by the protesters.
“This is not an issue of people being against people. This is about human rights and freedom and democracy,” Garrido said. He would not talk about Carriles.
The second reason for the protest was recent allegations by the Cuban government,which accused the top diplomat at the U.S. interest section in Havana of funneling money to Cuban rebels at the behest of Carriles' longtime benefactor and friend,Santiago Alvarez. A Cuban exile and wealthy real-estate developer in Miami,Alvarez is in prison for refusing to testify in Carriles' initial immigration case.
Free the Cuban Five filed a Freedom of Information Act with the State Department on Monday asking for the financial records,e-mails and correspondence of that diplomat,Michael Parmly.
“The Cuban government has put this information out there,and if the United States has nothing to hide,then show us your documents,” Mara Hilliard,attorney for Free the Cuban Five.
According to the transcript of Monday's State Department briefing,spokesman Sean McCormack said he has no knowledge of Parmly doing anything wrong.
McCormack said what he does knows about is “the U.S government providing humanitarian assistance to the families of political prisoners that the Cuban government has essentially abandoned.”
The situation has frustrated the Venezuelan government. “It is outrageous that the U.S. government allows a convicted terrorist to live freely in Miami and incite his followers to violence,” said Jose Pertierra,an attorney representing Venezuela,at a press conference Monday.
“It is outrageous that the U.S. government refused to invoke the Patriot Act and lock [Carriles] up. It is outrageous that the U.S. government refuses to abide by its international treaty obligations and extradite Posada Carriles to Venezuela or prosecute him in this country for murder.”
As this new chapter in this twisted story is opened,Livio Di Celmo waits for justice. His brother,an Italian-Canadian tourist,was killed in what he called a “terrorist attack” in 1997 in Cuba. In a statement,Di Celmo said Carriles was behind the bombing.
“The U.S. government's refusal to brand Posada a terrorist is an insult to the memories of his victims,” he said.