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Archive for Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Cuba’s Public Enemy No. 1 captured in Panama

November 22, 2000

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— The elderly Cuban exile arrested in Panama after Fidel Castro accused the man of plotting to assassinate him during a summit there is well known to the 11 million people living on this communist island.

For decades, state-run media have linked the name of Luis Posada Carriles with violence, terror and death, to the point that in Cubans' eyes he has become a virtual Public Enemy No. 1.

"Viva Panama, the land where the most famous criminal in all the hemisphere has been captured!" Castro crowed after Panamanian authorities arrested his old nemesis Friday, the day the Cuban leader arrived for the summit.

Cuba has formally requested Posada Carriles' extradition to the island, where he was tried and convicted en absentia for terrorism and would most certainly face death by firing squad.

Cubans first heard of the longtime anti-communist activist in October 1976 after an explosion sent a Cuban jetliner plummeting into the sea off Barbados. Members of the national fencing team, heading home after winning a tournament in Caracas, were among 73 people killed.

Cuba's government from the start blamed the tragedy on Posada Carriles, who has always denied involvement in the attack.

Although a mere footnote in American history, the jetliner bombing was a decisive moment in Cuban history that set off an outpouring of national grief akin to that seen in the United States after President Kennedy's assassination.

"My blood still boils, and I will always remember the painful silence" of that day, Cuban journalist Orlando Oramas Leon wrote in an article published Tuesday in the official Granma newspaper. "The relatives, friends, and neighbors of the victims of these atrocious crimes have the right to have the criminals judged."

Posada Carriles left his native Cuba shortly after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power. He is now 72 two years younger than Castro.

By the early 1960s, Posada Carriles had launched his lifelong battle against Castro and communism. He trained alongside other exiles for the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, although his group never reached the beach.

He spent nine years in prison in Venezuela during several trials for the jetliner bombing. He was acquitted twice and escaped from custody in 1985 while awaiting retrial.

In the 1980s, Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government accused Posada Carriles of working with the CIA to run guns for the Contra rebels.

More recently, Posada Carriles admitted to masterminding about a dozen bombings of Havana tourist locales in 1997, including one that killed a young Italian tourist.

Posada Carriles was arrested Friday after Castro arrived in Panama for a regional summit and announced that his old enemy was in town and planning to kill him. Posada Carriles was found at a hotel using a Salvadoran passport in the name of Franco Rodriguez Mena.

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