Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA-trained Cuban exile implicated in a series of terrorist incidents, applied for political asylum in the United States yesterday, prompting at least one congressman to assert that granting the request would undermine the nation's credibility in the war on terrorism.
Posada is in hiding after recently slipping into the United States, said Eduardo Soto, the Miami area lawyer handling Posada's asylum application. Now 77, Posada is a hero among some Cuban exiles for his fervent, four-decade effort to topple and kill Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles says he has been long opposed to President Fidel Castro.
(Marcos Delgado -- AP)
Trained by the CIA in the use of explosives as part of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada has been linked through the years with the bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner that killed 73 people; bombings in Cuban tourist hotels that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 other people; and a 2000 plot to assassinate Castro in Panama.
"If he is in the United States, he should be arrested and deported under the norms of international law," said Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.), who wrote a letter Monday to leaders of the House International Relations Committee calling for an investigation into how Posada entered the country.
"Given the enmity between the Cuban and U.S. governments, it is possible that U.S. officials may have turned a blind eye to Posada's entrance into our country -- or even worse, facilitated it," Delahunt wrote. "If that were true -- and even if it were not and Posada is allowed to remain here -- it would obliterate America's credibility in the war on terrorism, because it would suggest that we share the views of those who support al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents that 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.' "
Posada's defenders deny that he is a terrorist. They point out that Venezuelan courts twice acquitted Posada before he escaped from prison while awaiting a third trial there in the bombing of the Cuban airliner. Outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned Posada last year, after he served time in connection with the plot against Castro.
"Mr. Posada has never been convicted of any terrorist act," said Santiago Alvarez, a Miami developer who is a close friend of Posada, whom he calls a hero. "He's been a fighter against Castro all his life. He advocates violence, but that does not mean violence and terrorism are the same thing."
In the asylum request, Soto said that Posada cites his longtime opposition to Castro, saying he would be in danger if he were not granted protection by the United States. Soto said Posada is also seeking permanent residency in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cuban refugees to apply for the status after remaining in the United States one year.
Bill Strassberger, spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said asylum applications are reviewed for about a month, a process that includes a background check. Afterward, the applicant is called in for an interview with an immigration official who could grant asylum or refer the case for a hearing before an immigration judge.
The agency "is not going to provide safe haven to terrorists or killers," Strassberger said. But even if an applicant were denied asylum, he said, the United States would not turn the person over to a country where he is likely to face persecution and would arrange transfer to another country.
Posada has been viewed as an oft-sinister figure in the nearly half-century he has been exiled from Cuba. Alvarez said he served in the U.S. Army in the mid-1960s. A few years later, Posada worked with the Venezuelan secret police, tracking down leftist guerrillas. In 1976, he was arrested in Caracas for the bombing of the Cuban airliner. Although he was tried in absentia, he is still wanted by Venezuelan authorities in connection with his escape.
Later, Posada went to Central America where he oversaw supply operations for contra guerrillas fighting the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In 1990, he was shot and seriously wounded in Guatemala City by gunmen who were widely suspected to be Cuban agents. Afterward, he was implicated in the Cuban hotel bombings and the plot to kill Castro in Panama.
Delahunt, co-chairman of a bipartisan congressional working group that aims to repair the long-frayed relationship between the Cuban and U.S. governments, said that given Posada's past, he should be sought for arrest, rather than considered for legal protection.
"I can't imagine how one could defend a terrorist where there exists overwhelming evidence that he was responsible or a co-conspirator in blowing up a civilian airliner. To me that is just inconceivable," Delahunt said. "If this individual is indeed in the United States, I think we have to determine how he arrived here and under what circumstances."