Cuba and Venezuela, along with relatives of those killed in anti-Castro attacks, are protesting a US district court ruling that releases from jail Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile militant and former CIA operative.
Mr. Posada, who is wanted by authorities in Havana and Caracas for the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner, was detained in Florida in May 2005 for entering the United States illegally. Last Friday, US district Judge Kathleen Cardone ruled that Posada, who is currently held in a New Mexico jail, should be freed on bonds totaling $350,000 until his trial, which is scheduled for May 11. The Guardian reports that Posada's release was moved forward after Judge Cardone refused to "reverse her earlier ruling granting his request for bail."
Cuban president Fidel Castro slammed the ruling. In an editorial appearing on the front page of Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, Mr. Castro labelled Posada a "monster," and accused the White House of interfering with the trial.
It was President Bush himself who at every moment evaded the criminal and terrorist nature of the defendant. He was protected by being charged with a simple violation of immigration paperwork. The response is brutal. The United States government and its most representative institutions decided beforehand on the monster's freedom.
Venezuela also criticized the decision. In an interview with Democracy Now!, a syndicated American radio program, Venezuelan ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera called the ruling an "emblematic figure of the double standard in the fight against terrorism". In his September 20 remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez called Posada "biggest terrorist of this continent." Venezuela has asked that Posada be extradited, but a US federal court denied the request, claiming that Posada could be tortured in Venezuela.
In a press conference organized by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, named for a group of Cubans convicted of spying for Castro in the United States, Livio di Celmo, the brother of an Italian businessman killed in 1997, in a wave of bombings that Posada has admitted to organizing, accused the United States of exercising a double standard.
Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist and the United States Government has refused to define him so. I think that the American people should know the extent by which there has been ambiguity in the war on terrorism. This is an insult to my brother and to the victims of terrorism and it should be exposed to all.
US government officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, have moved to keep Posada behind bars. But Judge Cardone has rejected the government's requests to reconsider Posada's release, which, according to The Miami Herald, places the Justice Department "at a crossroads."
"We're weighing our options on whether to appeal," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Wednesday.
Ms. Cardone ruled that despite accusations of a violent history, the current federal charges against a "frail" Posada, 79, solely deal with how he allegedly lied about sneaking into the country two years ago on his naturalization application.
Posada's lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, said he is ready to fight the government, whether it appeals the judge's decision or tries to enforce a prior immigration detention order upon his release on bond.
"We have every confidence that within a reasonably short period of time Mr. Posada will be released pursuant to the court's order," Hernandez said.
Posada has spent almost five decades violently opposing communism in Latin America. The CIA trained him for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, although his squadron never saw combat. After the failed invasion, he moved to Venezuela, where he was naturalized as a citizen. In October 1976, days after the mid-air bombing of a Cuban airliner over Barbados that killed all 73 on board, Posada was arrested in Venezuela and charged with planning the attack. Posada denies the charge, but declassified CIA and FBI documents indicate that he had advance knowledge of the bombing, as did the US government. He escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985.
Posada then went to El Salvador to assist Lt. Col. Oliver North's illegal support of right-wing guerillas in Nicaragua. In 1990, Posada surfaced in Guatemala, where he survived an attack by three gunmen, then disappeared again.
In 1998, he admitted to The New York Times that he organized a wave of bombings of Cuban hotels and nightclubs in an attempt to discourage tourism to the island. One of those bombings killed Fabio Di Celmo, an Italian businessman.
Posada turned up in Panama in 2000, where he was arrested for attempting to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro, who was visiting for a summit. He was pardoned and released in 2004.
In last Friday's ruling (PDF), the judge said that, despite Posada's controversial history, he is "now older and more frail" and has ample ties to the Cuban-American community, making it less likely that he will flee.