Last week in Miami, Luis Posada Carriles´s accomplice in the downing of the Cuban passenger plane that was blown out of the sky with 73 innocent people on board on October 6, 1976 was interviewed by Juan Manuel Cao of Channel 41 in Miami. His name is Orlando Bosch.
I quote verbatim excerpts from the television interview
Juan Manuel Cao: Did you down that plane in 1976?
Orlando Bosch: If I tell you that I was involved, I will be inculpating myself . . . . and if I tell you that did not participate in that action, you would say that I am lying. I am therefore not going to answer one thing or the other.
Juan Manuel Cao: In that action 76 persons were killed (the correct figure is 73, including a pregnant passenger)?
Orlando Bosch: No chico, in a war such as us cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant, you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.
Juan Manuel Cao: But don´t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?
Orlando Bosch: . . . Who was on board that plane? Four members of the Communist Party, five north Koreans, five Guyanese, (JP: there were really 11 Guyanese passengers) . . . concho chico, four member of the Communist Party chico!!! Who was there? Our enemies . . .
Juan Manuel Cao: And the fencers? The young people on board?
Orlando Bosch: I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant etc etc. She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant. We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that every one who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.
Juan Manuel Cao: If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn't you think it difficult?
Orlando Bosch: No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba.
Bosch´s answers to those five questions give us a glimpse into the mind of the kind of terrorist that the United States government harbors and protects in Miami: terrorists that for the last forty-seven years have waged a bloody and ruthless war against the Cuban people.
What happened to Cubana de Aviación 455 almost thirty years ago is no secret. We need simply examine the CIA's own declassified cables. At the time, this was the worst act of aviation terrorism in history, and the first time that a civilian airliner was blown up by terrorists.
More than three months before CU-455 was blown out of the sky over Barbados on that sunny Wednesday afternoon of October 6, 1976, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informed Washington that a Cuban exile extremist group planned to place a bomb on a Cubana de Aviación flight.
The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that a CIA source had overheard Luis Posada Carriles say less than a month prior to the bombing that "we are going hit a Cuban airliner."
Neither Washington nor the CIA alerted Cuban authorities to the terrorist threat against their planes.
The bombing was carried out by Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Hernán Ricardo and Freddy Lugo. Final preparations for the terrorist act began with the arrival of Orlando Bosch in Caracas on September 8, 1976. Bosch is a Cuban-born terrorist who was the acknowledged leader of an organization called Coordinación de Organizaciones Revolucionarias Unidas (CORU).
According to the FBI, CORU was an umbrella group of Cuban exile organizations that was formed to "plan, finance and carry out terrorist operations and attacks against Cuba." (FBI cable dated June 29, 1976).
When Bosch arrived in Caracas on the 8th of September of that year, Posada Carriles was there to greet and make available to him his right hand man: trusted confidante Hernán Ricardo, who has admitted under oath to be a CIA operative. In 1976, Ricardo was also an employee of Luis Posada Carriles at a private intelligence firm that the latter founded and ran in Caracas: Investigaciones Comerciales e Industriales (ICI). Ricardo says that Posada Carriles introduced him to Orlando Bosch at the ICI offices in Caracas.
To help him with the special operation that Bosch and Posada planned for him, Ricardo in turn recruited Freddy Lugo. A Venezuelan citizen, Lugo has also admitted under oath to be a CIA operative.
We know that the foursome of Posada, Bosch, Ricardo and Lugo met together at least four times to plan the downing of the plan.
At the meetings, the terrorists agreed upon the coded words they would use to describe the success of the operation. The plane would be known as the "bus", and the passengers would be called the "dogs." "The rest is up to you," Posada told Lugo and Ricardo.
The C-4 explosives were carried on board the aircraft by Ricardo and Lugo in a tube of toothpaste and in a camera.
Freddy Lugo and Hernán Ricardo boarded the CU-455 flight in Trinidad at 12:15 PM bound for Barbados. Ricardo traveled under a forged passport using a false name. They sat in the middle of the plane. During the flight, they placed the C-4 explosives in two separate places in the plane: the rear bathroom and underneath the seat belonging to Freddy Lugo. Lugo and Ricardo got off the plane during its brief stopover at Seawell Airport in Barbados. They later admitted under oath that they had each received special training in explosives from the CIA.
Aboard CU-455 were 73 persons. 57 of the passengers were Cubans. 11 of them were Guyanese medical students in Cuba. The remaining five passengers were Koreans. Those on board averaged only 30 years of age.
Traveling with the group were 24 members of the Cuban fencing team, many of them teen-agers, fresh from gold medal victories at the Youth Fencing Championship in Caracas. They proudly wore their gold medals on board the aircraft. One of the young fencers, Nancy Uranga, was only twenty-three years old and pregnant. She wasn't supposed to be on board. That spot on the fencing team belonged to a pretty little twelve-year old fencer, unusually tall for her age, named María González. María had planned to participate in the Caribbean Games, and was on the tarmac at Havana's José Martí Airport ready to board the plane that would take the team to the Games, when one of her coaches gave her the bad news that international amateur rules prevented twelve year olds from competing. María reportedly was devastated, and she went to her home in Havana's neighborhood called La Víbora, and cried for three days, refusing to watch the games on Cuban television because it hurt her so much not to be there. Nancy Uranga was summoned to the Airport and took María´s place on the ill fated trip to the Caribbean Games.
The fencing team was a roaring success at the Games. They won gold, silver and bronze medals. They were to return home on October 6, 1976. The athletes proudly wore their medals dangling over their clothes, as they boarded the aircraft. Cubana de Aviación 455 stopped first in Trinidad at 11:03 AM, and then touched down again in Barbados at 12:25 PM.
Nine minutes after take-off from Barbados, the bombs exploded and the plane caught fire. The passengers on board then lived the most horrifying ten minutes of their lives, as the plane turned into a scorching coffin.
The cockpit voice-recorder captured the last terrifying moments of the flight at 1:24 PM: "Seawell! Seawell! CU-455 Seawell. . . ! We have an explosion on board. . . . . We have a fire on board."
The pilot, Wilfredo Pérez (affectionately known as "Felo"), asked Seawell Airport for permission to return and land, but the plane and its passengers were already doomed.
As the plane approached the shore, it was rapidly losing altitude and control. "Hit the water, Felo, Hit the Water," said the co-pilot.
Rather than crashing into the white sands of the beach called Paradise and killing the beachgoers, Felo courageously banked the plane toward the water where it crashed in a ball of fire one mile north of Deep Water Bay.
Pieces of bodies were slowly recovered from the sea. Most of them too grotesquely disfigured to be identified by their family members. There were no survivors.
After deplaning, Lugo and Ricardo hurriedly left Seawell Airport in Barbados and checked into a local hotel under assumed names.
From the hotel, Hernán Ricardo called his bosses in Venezuela: Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. Unable to find Posada at his desk, he left a message with Posada´s secretary. He then called Caracas again and asked a mutual friend, Marinés Vega, to deliver the following message to Posada:
"We are in a desperate situation, the bus was fully loaded with dogs . . . they should send someone I can recognize . . . I will be waiting in a soda fountain near the embassy just in case something happens and I need to ask for asylum there."
Ricardo was able to communicate with Bosch who allegedly said to him: "my friend we have a problem here in Caracas. An aircraft is never blown up in midair . . .", implying that the plan had been for the bomb to explode while the plane was on the ground before take-off.
Sensing how hot things were getting for them in Barbados, Lugo and Ricardo boarded a return flight to Trinidad on British West Indies Airlines that very evening. On the flight, Ricardo said to his buddy: "Damn it, Lugo, I'm desperate and feel like crying. I had never killed anyone before."
In Port of Spain, the terrorists checked into the Holiday Inn with false identities and made more desperate calls to Caracas, trying to reach Posada Carriles.
Their nervous demeanor at the airport and at the hotel, as well as their conversations in the taxis they took in Barbados and later in Trinidad, led the police to zero in on them as the primary suspects in the bombing. They were arrested and interrogated by detectives from the Trinidad police department.
Both confessed to Commissioner Dannis Ramdwar who took their written depositions. Lugo and Ricardo each admitted to being CIA operatives. Ricardo described in detail how he could detonate C-4 explosives and pointed to a pencil on Ramdwar´s desk that was similar to the timer he used to detonate the explosive on board the plane. Ricardo also told the police in Trinidad that he worked for Luis Posada Carriles. He told Ramdwar that the head of CORU was Orlando Bosch and drew for the police an organizational chart of CORU and said that the terrorist organization was also known as Condor.
Upon hearing of the confessions of Lugo and Ricardo, the police in Caracas moved in and arrested Posada and Bosch. They also obtained a warrant and searched the offices of Posada Carriles where they confiscated weapons and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment. The police also found a schedule of Cubana flights in Posada´s Caracas office.
In one of the very first reports on the October 6, 1976, downing of Cubana Flight 455, the FBI Venezuelan bureau cables that a confidential source has identified Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch as responsible for the bombing. "The source all but admitted that Posada and Bosch had engineered the bombing of the airline," according to the report.
During the television interview three days ago in Miami, Bosch talked about an agreement reached between terrorists in Santo Domingo in June of 1976.
The FBI itself tells us about that secret agreement. According to an FBI report, Orlando Bosch, Luis Posada Carriles and other terrorists formed an umbrella terrorist organization called CORU at a meeting in the Dominican Republic. The FBI report details how at that meeting in the Dominican Republic, CORU planned a series of bombing attacks against Cuban entities, as well as the murder of Communists in the Western Hemisphere. On page 6, the report relates in great detail how Orlando Bosch was met in Caracas on September 8, 1976, by Luis Posada and other anti-Castro exiles and a deal was struck as to what kind of activities he could organize on Venezuelan soil.
After the arrests of Lugo, Ricardo, Bosch and Posada, Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana and Cuba ceded jurisdiction over the downing of the passenger plane to Venezuela, and all four were prosecuted in Caracas for murder.
Prosecuting terrorists has a price. The Judge who issued the initial arrest warrants for the four terrorists, Delia Estava Moreno, received several death threats and attempts at blackmail as reprisals for her conduct. As a result, she was forced to recuse herself. The presiding judge of the military court, Retired General Elio Garcia Barrios, also received death threats and in 1983, his son and chauffeur were murdered during a Mafia-style hit intended to even the score and intimidate those who dared legally prosecute the murderers.
Eventually, Lugo and Ricardo were convicted, but before the Court could reach a verdict regarding his case, Luis Posada Carriles escaped from the prison at San Juan de los Moros in the State of Guárico where he had been confined after two unsuccessful escape attempts.
Posada escaped with the help of at least $50,000 from a right wing extremist group in Miami.
Fifteen days after his escape from jail, Posada was smuggled out of Venezuela bound for Aruba on a shrimp boat. He spent a week in Aruba and was then flown by private plane to Costa Rica and then San Salvador. He immediately started working alongside Felix Rodriguez, a high ranking CIA member, at the Ilopango Airbase. Posada´s job in San Salvador was to supply the Nicaraguan Contras with arms and supplies obtained through the sale of narcotics. This Operation became a scandal known as Iran-Contra. Felix Rodriguez was the CIA's point man in Central America for the Iran-Contra scandal, hired for the job by an old friend from the CIA Donald Gregg who was Vice-President Bush's National Security Advisor. According to Anna Louise Bardach who interviewed Posada while she was a reporter for the New York Times, "Posada noted with a certain pride that George Bush had headed the CIA from November 1975 to January 1977"- a period that covered some of the most violent crimes committed by Cuban exiles and Operation Condor: including the Letelier assassination and the downing of the passenger plane.
Posada spent the next several years in Central America working for the security services of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But in the early 90s he turned his attention once again to Cuba which was struggle to jump start a tourist industry in order to offset a dramatic economic downturn after the demise of the Soviet Bloc. From his lair in Central America he recruited Salvadoran and Guatemalan mercenaries to smuggle explosives to Cuba, and in 1997 bombs began to blow in the finest hotels and restaurants of Havana-killing an Italian tourist named Fabio DiCelmo and wounding several others.
Cuba learned that the campaign of terror against its tourist industry was being financed by Miami exile organizations and orchestrated by Luis Posada Carriles in Central America. Faced with the FBI´s refusal to reign in the terrorists in Miami, Cuba sent some very brave men to penetrate these terrorist organizations and gather information with the purpose of asking President Clinton to intervene and order the Feds to arrest the terrorists.
After gathering enough evidence to determine the source of the terror campaign, on May 1, 1998 Fidel Castro sent a personal emissary to Washington with a handwritten message to President Clinton: the emissary was none other than Nobel Prize for Literature Gabriel García Márquez. President Clinton was out of town for several days in California, and after waiting him out at the Hotel Washington for several days, García Márquez finally met with White House Chief of Staff Mac McLarty and gave him the letter. García Márquez recounts McLarty´s reaction to the letter and quotes McLarty as saying to him: "We have enemies in common: terrorists".
In the wake of the Garcia Marquez visit, the U.S. sent an FBI team to Cuba a month later to discuss collaboration with Cuba on a "War On Terror". Cuba handed over to the FBI tapes of 14 telephone conversations of Luis Posada Carriles with details on the series of bombs that had exploded in Cuba in the 90s. Cuba also gave the FBI Luis Posada Carriles´ addresses in El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama. Also tapes of conversations with Central American detainees in Cuba who admitted Posada is their boss. All together, Cuba turned over 60 sets of documents with information about 40 terrorists based in Miami, including their addresses, and evidence of their ties to terror.
Cuba then waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. Cuba waited for the FBI to start arresting terrorists. But instead the FBI arrested on September 12, 1998, the men now known as the Cuban Five: the men who had come to Miami to penetrate the Miami exile terrorist organizations.
According to El Nuevo Herald, the first persons that were notified of the arrests of the Cuban Five were Cong. Lincoln Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.
The Five were charged with 62 counts of violating federal laws. Their arrests illustrates Washington's double standard when it comes to its so-called war on terror: a war that the U.S. government chooses to fight a la carte, distinguishing between terrorists it likes and those it doesn't.
The Five were placed in solitary confinement for the next 17 months, until the start of their trial. They were convicted of several charges and received the maximum sentences possible. Gerardo Hernandez received a double life sentence and Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labañino on life sentence each. Fernando Gonzalez and René Gonzalez, got 19 and 15 years respectively.
They were sent to maximum security prisons across this country, and two of them have been denied visits from their wives for the past seven years in violation of U.S. laws and international law.
On August 9, 2005, a 3 judge panel of the Court of Appeals published a 93 page decision that reversed the convictions and sentences, ruling that the Five did not receive a fair trial in Miami and acknowledging evidence produced by the defense at trial that revealed terrorist actions by Miami exile groups against Cuba. The Court of Appeals even cited in a footnote the role of Luis Posada Carriles and correctly referred to him as a terrorist. The three-judge panel found that "a perfect storm" of prejudice prevented the Cuban Five from having a fair trial in Miami.
The Bush Administration, through its Solicitor General, made a formal appeal to all 12 judges of the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, and out of apparent deference to the unusual request from the Department of Justice the Court of Appeals nullified the three-judge panel decision and agreed to hear the case en banc.
Attorney Leonard Weinglass who represents Antonio Guerrero said recently: "The Five were not prosecuted because they violated American law, but because their work exposed those who were. By infiltrating the terror network that is allowed to exist in Florida they demonstrated the hypocrisy of America's claimed opposition to terrorism."
As the Five were being prosecuted in Miami, the campaign of terror against Cuba continued. In November 2000, Posada Carriles was arrested in Panama along with three accomplices before they could carry out the plan to blow up an auditorium filled with students at the University of Panamá where Cuban President Fidel Castro was to speak. The four were convicted by a Panamanian Court, but on August 26, 2004, in one of her last acts as President, Mireya Moscoso pardons them in violation of Panamanian law. The three accomplices, all Cuban-Americans, go to Miami to be welcomed home. Posada Carriles who is neither a U.S. citizen nor a lawful permanent resident, goes underground in Honduras and begins to scheme a plan to go to the home of terrorism: Miami.
In March of 2005 he shows up in Miami and applies for asylum. For weeks he lives openly in that city, even going shopping at the mall. Before he is detained by anyone, Venezuela requests his preventive detention for the purpose of extraditing him to Venezuela to stand trial for 73 counts of first degree murder relating to the downing of the passenger plane in 1976.
Rather than exercising an extradition detainer on him, the Department of Homeland Security instead did nothing. It wasn't until Posada called a bizarre press conference in Miami on May 16, 2005 where he openly boasted that the DHS wasn't even looking for him, that government officials felt they had no choice but to detain him. He was detained immediately after the press conference and gingerly escorted in a golf cart with no handcuffs to a waiting helicopter.
Posada was charged with illegal entry into the United States and thus began the legal charade designed to divert attention from the extradition request that remains unattended by the Department of Justice.
As relief from deportation, Posada first claimed he was still a permanent resident of the U.S. In the alternative, he asked for asylum and protection from removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Although it is true that he had been a permanent resident in the 60s, Posada long ago abandoned that status. After all, he has spent the last almost forty years living and killing abroad. Because of his long curriculum of terror, as a matter of law he does not qualify for asylum. That left him only with the possibility CAT relief.
It was then that we witnessed one of the sorriest episodes of legal maneuvering ever by Department of Homeland Security attorneys. Those handling the immigration matter of Posada Carriles at the Immigration Court in El Paso, Texas set the table for Posada to win CAT relief.
Posada called only one witness in his immigration case. A so-called expert on Venezuela who testified that in his expert opinion, Posada would be tortured if returned to Caracas. The witness testified that Venezuela tortures prisoners and that Posada would be surely tortured if sent back. That witness was none other than Joaquín Chaffardet, friend, business partner and lawyer of Luis Posada Carriles in Venezuela. Chaffardet had also been Posada´s boss at the DISIP in the early 1970s, a man that Posada has been close to for the past forty years. The DHS never even cross-examined this guy! Its attorney never even raised the possibility that Chaffardet was not an objective, disinterested witness-but instead was biased in favor of his friend, partner and client. Other than Chaffardet´s questionable testimony, no other evidence in support of the theory that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela was presented.
DHS´s tactic worked. Immigration Judge William Abbott credited Chaffardet´s testimony as credible and found a "clear probability" that Posada would be tortured if returned to Venezuela. Judge Abbott ordered his removal from the United States, but not to Venezuela or Cuba because he would be tortured there. DHS declined to appeal the decision, and began a quest to find a third country that would take him. A few months earlier the DHS had appealed an Immigration Judge´s decision to grant CAT relief to two Venezuelan officers. In that appeal, the same DHS attorney who litigated the Posada case argued that there is no evidence that Venezuela tortures prisoners. Now in the Posada case, DHS took a decidedly different position. Why? You figure it out.
More than six months have passed since the immigration decision. Since it has thus far refused to slap an extradition detainer on him (as Venezuela has requested numerous times), the U.S. government has to either release Posada or declare him a threat to the community. In a letter to Posada dated March 22, 2006, DHS decided to continue to detain him on immigration charges. The letter told Posada that he has a "long history of criminal activity and violence in which innocent civilians were killed." His release from detention concludes ICE in its letter to Posada, "would pose a danger to both the community and the national security of the United States."
In support of its interim decision to continue to detain him, ICE cites Venezuela's pending extradition case against Posada and the fact that Posada fled from a Venezuelan prison while his trial for the downing of a passenger plane in 1976 was pending. "Your past also includes your escape from a Venezuelan prison which was accomplished after several attempts utilizing threats of force, explosives and subterfuge," says ICE in its Decision.
ICE goes on to cite Posada's own statements to link him to the "planning and coordination of a series of hotel and restaurant bombings that occurred in Cuba . . . in 1997." These bombings resulted in the murder of an Italian tourist and the wounding of several others. ICE also cites Posada's conviction in Panama for "crimes against national security," in reference to his attempt to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2000 with C- 4 explosives as President Castro was to speak to an auditorium with full of students.
So finally the US government recognizes that Posada is a bad guy! Without actually saying the dreaded word, the letter from ICE virtually calls him a terrorist. The law forced the United States to make this admission. Although it's clear that Washington doesn't want to extradite him to Venezuela, it is not prudent to release him. The only way that he can continue to be detained without an extradition detainer is with a government finding that he is a danger to the community.
But the extradition case is not going to go away. It's there, very much alive. Unless Posada has a heart attack and dies in prison, the law is eventually going to force the US government to proceed with the extradition case. A lot of people think that Judge Abbott´s finding that Posada may not be deported to Venezuela is a ruling on Venezuela's extradition request. That is not the case. Extradition rulings trump immigration decisions...
The story of CU-455 cries out to be told to the American people. If the American people hear the true story of how those 73 people were murdered in cold blood by terrorists whom the United States prefers to shelter rather than prosecute, they'll not stand for it.
Few people in this country know that Orlando Bosch was released from immigration custody by President George Bush Sr. in 1990, and that he now sits on the dais whenever President Bush Jr. delivers speeches in Miami. Bosch´s lawyer, who happens to be Fulgencio Batista´s grandson, was appointed four years ago by Jeb Bush to Florida's Supreme Court.
The fate of the Cuban Five is in the hands of 12 judges, but the judges must be put under the microscope of public opinion. Despite your best efforts, Americans still don´t know who the Five are or why they went to Miami. It's important that you continue to make sure that their story is told: that the U.S. prosecutes and condemns anti-terrorists, yet shelters and protects terrorists.
It's up to the American people to put a stop to impunity, and it's up to you to make sure the American people learn the truth about these cases and this government.
It's up to you to bring the truth to the American people about Cuba and about Venezuela.
The US government conducts a hypocritical war on terror, while it shelters and rewards the terrorists it prefers. Washington lectures other governments about human rights, while it blockades Cuba, using hunger as a foreign policy tool, in order to try and starve 11 million people into submission.
We cannot sit idly by while the U.S. government blockades and invades countries that have never attacked it, tortures prisoners and takes their pictures as if the victims were curiosity pieces rather than human beings, as it spies on Americans without a warrant, and tramples the civil rights of its citizens with a law whose authors dared title "Patriotic."
In 2002, Washington helped organize a failed coup against a democratically elected government in Venezuela in order to prop up a typical puppet government in Caracas. Thanks to the Venezuelan people, the coup failed and President Chávez was restored to office.
The blockade against Cuba didn't work and neither did the coup in Venezuela. Cuba and Venezuela are now stronger than ever.
The Bush Administration's policies at home and abroad have woken a sleeping and silent giant throughout this continent. And, yes: America is one continent and not two as some U.S. textbooks would have us believe.
We are in the midst of a new social movement that is shaking this continent to its core. On the 30th anniversary of Operation Condor's bloodiest year, we are witness that the people Latin America have taken back their countries from the grip of terror. Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile and Bolivia have governments that respond to the needs of their own people, rather than to the interests of US corporations. Other countries in will soon join them. This is an election year in America. The people of Latin America are taking back their governments.
It's high time that the people of the United States did the same.