Reheating the Cold War
The trial of a suspected terrorist is stoking old passions, from D.C. to Miami to Havana
MIAMI-It's cool and sunny in Little Havana, and the men from this city's aging but still-powerful Cuban exile community crowd the Versailles restaurant's outdoor coffee bar, talking politics in the shade and drinking cups of high-octane espresso.
It's a community known for passion, but on this recent morning, the conversation is livelier than usual, and the reason, down here anyway, is obvious: Days earlier, a 79-year-old anti-Castro militant who many here hail as a hero-but who is reviled elsewhere as a terrorist-was ordered released on bond from a Texas prison where for two years he had been held on immigration fraud charges.
Notorious Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative accused of plotting the deadly bombings of a Cuban airliner in 1976 and tourist sites in Havana in 1997, was back in Miami after decades away, confined to his wife's apartment and awaiting a trial that is scheduled to start this week in El Paso. When it's over, says Josa Fabregas, as he steers a visitor to the pastry counter, Posada should be allowed to return to this city, unshackled.
"All the leaders of the counterrevolution should be living free among us," says Fabregas, 57, an advocate for affordable housing who left Cuba for Florida 46 years ago. "Yes, some people call it terrorism, and unfortunately, some people have to die. But an armed struggle is an armed struggle."
One person's freedom fighter, however, is another's terrorist. And the trial of a man linked to many years of violent efforts by Cuban exiles to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro, as well as to U.S. covert operations in Central America, promises to resonate far beyond west Texas and Biscayne Bay.
From the moment Posada surfaced at a press conference here in 2005, some 20 years after escaping from prison in Venezuela, where he faced murder charges for plotting the bombing of the Cuban airliner, he has been a vexing problem for the Bush administration. How does a president with deep political ties to the Cuban exile community, a brother who was Florida's governor, and an unyielding, "with us or against us" stand on terrorists handle a larger-than-life problem like Posada?
Hot potato. It's a good question, but even now, on the verge of Posada's trial, the answers aren't clear. Posada has been a political hot potato for a slew of U.S. government agencies. Six countries, including Canada, have refused the U.S. government's plea to take him off its hands. A judge in Texas barred Posada's extradition to Venezuela. Cuba, Venezuela, and a host of other countries have demanded-unsuccessfully-that Posada be tried as a terrorist. So barring some unforeseen development, Posada will most likely face only immigration fraud and false statement charges when jury selection commences this week in Room 3 of the Western District of Texas federal courthouse in El Paso.
To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been. Posada has traveled a circuitous path back to Miami, where he first arrived in 1961 after fleeing Cuba, stopping briefly in Mexico, when Castro came to power. Already in his early 30s, he joined the U.S. Army and trained with the CIA for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the beginning of a long association with the agency. The U.S. government claims its relationship with Posada ended in 1976, just after the airliner bombing; Posada's lawyers say it continued for a decade longer.