Cubans Remember Airliner Bombing Victims

The Associated Press
Friday, October 6, 2006; 11:28 PM

HAVANA -- Ondina Perez grew teary Friday as she recalled the day 30 years ago when a Cuban airliner exploded in flight over the island of Barbados, killing her pilot brother and the other 72 people aboard. Three decades later, Perez and other family members of those killed want the man sought for masterminding the explosion, Luis Posada Carriles, to face trial.

"It is sad to see all these children, grandchildren, parents, without their loved ones today," said Perez, who was among the victims' relatives who made a pilgrimage to Havana's Colon Cemetery, some hoisting large posters with black-and-white photographs of their dead loved ones.

Posada, a former CIA operative and opponent of Fidel Castro who denies involvement in the bombing, is being held in the United States on unrelated immigration charges. U.S. officials on Thursday blocked a federal magistrate's ruling that Posada be set free pending his deportation from the United States.

Those leading the pilgrimage into the cemetery carried a black banner bearing the words: "We Demand Justice." Family members left flowers at the graves of victims.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday also paid tribute to the bombing victims, who he said were "martyrs of the Cuban revolution" killed by "state terrorism" perpetuated by the United States. He demanded the U.S. government "comply with its own laws, comply with international accords" and extradite Posada.

"Before the world we denounce the United States government for continuing to protect the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles," Chavez said.

The Cuban government held its own event Friday evening to remember the bombing victims and demand that Posada be tried. Castro, convalescing after intestinal surgery in late July, also sent a floral arrangement to the cemetery.

Posada is to remain for now at a U.S. immigration detention center in El Paso, Texas.

The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday that the decision to keep Posada in custody was based in part on his potential flight risk and danger to the community.

Posada was arrested in Florida in May 2005 on an immigration violation and ordered deported last year, but a U.S. immigration judge ruled that Posada could not be sent to either Cuba or Venezuela _ which both seek him in connection with the bombing _ because of the fear that he would be tortured.

Since then, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador all have rejected official requests by the U.S. to accept Posada, who is a naturalized Venezuelan citizen.

Thursday's decision comes less than a month after U.S. Magistrate Judge Norbert Garney ruled that Posada should be set free while the American government seeks a country that will accept him.

Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon reiterated his government's claims that U.S. officials had known of Posada's involvement in the bombing at the time, and had protected him ever since.

"These are 30 years of complicity and obstruction of justice," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press