HAVANA, May 12, 2005 — -- If Cuba has its way, the name Luis Posada Carriles will soon be as familiar to Americans as Osama bin Laden, and just as loathed.
President Fidel Castro has called on Cubans to take to the streets next Tuesday to demand the Bush administration arrest the 77-year-old Posada and a few other Cold War relics roaming the Miami area.
Posada -- who is wanted in Venezuela on terrorism charges, and has been accused of involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane -- sneaked into the United States in March, according to his Miami lawyers and Cuban exile friends. He wants political asylum after years of allegedly targeting Cuban soft targets and Castro himself in a futile effort to end the communist dictator's rule over the Caribbean island.
U.S. officials appear conflicted as to how to handle the Posada issue, insisting they are not even sure he is in the country, despite what his lawyers and friends say.
"In terms of where he presently is, I think it is fair to say we do not know," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Monday.
On the one hand, there are Posada's pre-9/11 ties with Washington and still-strong links with powerful Cuban-American Bush supporters in Florida, where the president's brother Jeb is governor. On the other hand, there is the war on terrorism, and the president's insistence those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as terrorists themselves.
Castro, in a series of recent televised speeches, has said that when the people of the United States understand the Posada issue they will demand justice, just as he said they overwhelmingly supported efforts to unite young castaway Elian Gonzalez with his father in Cuba over protests from Miami's Cuban-American community.
"They have committed an extremely serious error, like the one they committed with Elian Gonzalez, when we fought without respite until they returned the boy," Castro recently said of efforts to make the United States Posada's new home.
Thirty years ago a Cuban plane was blown out of the sky off Barbados. All 73 passengers and crew members aboard Cubana Airlines Flight 455 -- including Cuba's youthful fencing team -- died. The terrorist attack shook Cuba as deeply as 9/11 did the United States. The Cubans have never forgotten or forgiven those they hold responsible, including Posada.
As many as 1 million Havana residents are expected to converge in front of the U.S. diplomatic mission next week, as what Castro hopes will be Posada, the Elian Sequel, gets under way. To be sure, the protest is being organized by the government, but just as in dozens of bring-Elian-home rallies and marches five years ago, many demonstrators will be sincerely demanding attention and equal justice in the post-9/11 world.
Following an international investigation, two Venezuelans were tried in their country and convicted of planting the bombs that brought down the Cubana flight. The CIA-trained Posada, who ran the security agency where they worked, and fellow Cuban exile Orlando Bosch, were accused of masterminding the atrocity, but were acquitted.
Posada and Bosch had worked through the 1960s and into the early '70s for the CIA, and Posada, who had become a Venezuelan citizen, had also served as a high-level official in that country's intelligence service.
Declassified CIA and FBI records posted this week on the Web by the National Security Archive at George Washington University identify Posada as one of the "engineer[s]" of the plane bombing, according to the project's Web page.
According to Peter Kornbluh, who directs the archive's Cuba Documentation Project, "The declassified record leaves no doubt that Posada has been one of the world's most unremitting purveyors of terrorist violence."
Posada has admitted to organizing many attacks on Cuban targets over the last 45 years, including a 1997 string of Havana hotel and eatery bombings that left an Italian dead and other tourists wounded, though later he retracted the confession. Posada denies any involvement in the plane bombing.
Posada and Bosch were acquitted twice in Venezuela, though they remained behind bars for years as legal wrangling dragged on. Eventually Posada bribed his way to freedom in 1985, only to show up a few days after his escape in El Salvador, running arms behind the U.S. Congress' back to the Nicaraguan Contras for Oliver North.
Bosch won his freedom in the courts and went to the United States, where in 1989 the Justice Department sought his deportation as "a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency." President George H.W. Bush, under pressure from Cuban-Americans, overruled the Justice Department and Bosch has been living in the Miami area ever since.
Posada was arrested in 2000 and later convicted in Panama, along with three other people, in a plot to blow up Castro during a regional summit in the Central American country.
Former Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned the group less than a week before leaving office on Aug. 31, 2004. Posada's three associates flew directly to Miami, but Posada himself disappeared into the Central American brush. Then, earlier this year, he apparently surfaced in the United States -- becoming Castro's perfect issue and one of the Bush administration's worst nightmares.