Terrorists in Miami, Oh My!
By Robert Parry
Saturday 24 June 2006
The Bush administration finally took action against alleged terrorists living in plain sight in Miami, but they weren't the right-wing Cuban terrorists implicated in actual acts of terror, such as blowing a civilian Cuban airliner out of the sky. They were seven young black men whose crime was more "aspirational than operational," the FBI said.
As media fanfare over the arrests made the seven young men, many sporting dreadlocks, the new face of the terrorist enemy in America, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales conceded that the men had no weapons or explosives and represented "no immediate threat."
But Gonzales warned that these kinds of homegrown terrorists "may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda." [NYT, June 24, 2006]
For longtime observers of political terrorism in South Florida, the aggressive reaction to what may have been the Miami group's loose talk about violence, possibly spurred by an FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda operative, stands in marked contrast to the US government's see-no-evil approach to notorious Cuban terrorists who have lived openly in Miami for decades.
For instance, the Bush administration took no action in early April 2006, when a Spanish-language Miami television station interviewed Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch, who offered a detailed justification for the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight that killed 73 people, including the young members of the Cuban national fencing team.
Bosch refused to admit guilt, but his chilling defense of the bombing - and the strong evidence that has swirled around his role - left little doubt of his complicity, even as he lives in Miami as a free man, protected both in the past and present by the Bush family.
The Bush administration also has acted at a glacial pace in dealing with another Cuban exile implicated in the bombing, Luis Posada Carriles, whose illegal presence in Miami was an open secret for weeks in early 2005 before US authorities took him into custody, only after he had held a press conference.
But even then, the administration has balked at sending Posada back to Venezuela where the government of Hugo Chavez - unlike some of its predecessors - was eager to prosecute Posada for the Cubana Airlines murders.
Summing up George W. Bush's dilemma in 2005, the New York Times wrote, "A grant of asylum could invite charges that the Bush administration is compromising its principle that no nation should harbor suspected terrorists. But to turn Mr. Posada away could provoke political wrath in the conservative Cuban-American communities of South Florida, deep sources of support and campaign money for President Bush and his brother, Jeb." [NYT, May 9, 2005]
Bush Family Ties
But there's really nothing new about these two terrorists - and other violent right-wing extremists - getting protection from the Bush family.
For three decades, both Bosch and Posada have been under the Bush family's protective wing, starting with former President George H.W. Bush (who was CIA director when the airline bombing occurred in 1976) and extending to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush.
The evidence points to one obvious conclusion: the Bushes regard terrorism - defined as killing civilians to make a political point - as justified in cases when their interests match those of the terrorists. In other words, their moral outrage is selective, depending on the identity of the victims.
That hypocrisy was dramatized by the TV interview with Bosch on Miami's Channel 41, which was cited in articles on the Internet by Venezuela's lawyer José Pertierra, but was otherwise widely ignored by the US news media. [For Pertierra's story, see Counterpunch, April 11, 2006.]
"Did you down that plane in 1976?" asked reporter Juan Manuel Cao.
"If I tell you that I was involved, I will be inculpating myself," Bosch answered, "and if I tell you that I 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."
But when Cao asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the plane crashed off the coast of Barbados in 1976, Bosch responded, "In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach."
"But don't you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?" Cao asked.
"Who was on board that plane?" Bosch responded. "Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese." [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]
Bosch added, "Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies ..."
"And the fencers?" Cao asked about Cuba's amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. "The young people on board?"
Bosch replied, "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.... She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant.
"We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny." [The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a strategy meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976.]
"If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn't you think it difficult?" Cao asked.
"No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba," Bosch answered.
In an article about Bosch's remarks, lawyer Pertierra said the answers "give us a glimpse into the mind of the kind of terrorist that the United States government harbors and protects in Miami."
The Posada Case
Bosch was arrested for illegally entering the United States during the first Bush administration, but he was paroled in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush at the behest of the President's eldest son Jeb, then an aspiring Florida politician.
Not only did the first Bush administration free Bosch from jail a decade and a half ago, the second Bush administration has now pushed Venezuela's extradition request for his alleged co-conspirator, Posada, onto the back burner.
The downed Cubana Airlines flight originated in Caracas where Venezuelan authorities allege the terrorist plot was hatched. However, US officials have resisted returning Posada to Venezuela because Hugo Chavez is seen as friendly to Castro's communist government in Cuba.
At a US immigration hearing in 2005, Posada's defense attorney put on a Posada friend as a witness who alleged that Venezuela's government practices torture. Bush administration lawyers didn't challenge the claim, leading the immigration judge to bar Posada's deportation to Venezuela.
In September 2005, Venezuela's Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez called the 77-year-old Posada "the Osama Bin Laden of Latin America" and accused the Bush administration of applying "a cynical double standard" in its War on Terror.
Alvarez also denied that Venezuela practices torture. "There isn't a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela," Alvarez said, adding that the claim is particularly ironic given widespread press accounts that the Bush administration has abused prisoners at the US military base in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba.
Theoretically, the Bush administration could still extradite Posada to Venezuela to face the 73 murder counts, but it is essentially ignoring Venezuela's extradition request while holding Posada on minor immigration charges of entering the United States illegally.
Meanwhile, Posada has begun maneuvering to gain his freedom. Citing his service in the US military from 1963-65 in Vietnam, Posada has applied for US citizenship, and his lawyer Eduardo Soto has threatened to call US government witnesses, including former White House aide Oliver North, to vouch for Posada's past service to Washington.
Posada became a figure in the Iran-Contra scandal because of his work on a clandestine program to aid Nicaraguan contra rebels fighting Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government. The operation was run secretly out of the White House by North with the help of the office of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Posada reached Central America in 1985 after escaping from a Venezuelan prison where he had been facing charges from the 1976 Cubana Airlines bombing. Posada, using the name Ramon Medina, teamed up with another Cuban exile, former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who reported regularly to Bush's office.
Posada oversaw logistics and served as paymaster for pilots in the contra-supply operation. When one of the contra-supply planes was shot down inside Nicaragua in October 1986, Posada was responsible for alerting US officials to the crisis and then shutting down the operation's safe houses in El Salvador.
Even after the exposure of Posada's role in the contra-supply operation, the US government made no effort to bring the accused terrorist to justice.
As for the Cubana Airlines bombing, declassified US documents show that after the plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, quickly identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the Cubana Airlines bombing.
But in fall 1976, Bush's boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
Still, inside the US government, the facts were known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in anti-communist Cuban extremists Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela's intelligence agency, DISIP.
The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia "to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela."
On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch's honor during which Bosch requested cash from the Venezuelan government in exchange for assurances that Cuban exiles wouldn't demonstrate during Andres Perez's planned trip to the United Nations.
"A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, 'we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,' and that 'Orlando has the details,'" the CIA report said.
"Following the 6 October Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory."
The CIA report was sent to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as well as to the FBI and other US intelligence agencies, according to markings on the cable.
In South America, investigators began rounding up suspects in the bombing.
Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who had left the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack.
A search of Posada's apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.
Posada and Bosch were arrested and charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the men denied the accusations. The case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez. The case lingered for almost a decade.
After the Reagan-Bush administration took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. The Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.
By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela's jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by US officials who warned that Washington couldn't credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.
But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the US Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb's dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.
In 1992, also during George H.W. Bush's presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the US Embassy in Honduras.
Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush's vice presidential office in the secret contra operation. According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush's national security adviser, Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez.
"Posada ... recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg," the FBI summary said. "Posada knows this because he's the one who paid Rodriguez' phone bill." After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy to freedom. [For details, see Parry's Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & Project Truth.]
Posada soon returned to his anti-Castro plotting.
In 1994, Posada set out to kill Castro during a trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Posada and five cohorts reached Cartagena, but the plan flopped when security cordons prevented the would-be assassins from getting a clean shot at Castro, according to a Miami Herald account. [Miami Herald, June 7, 1998]
The Herald also described Posada's role in a lethal 1997 bombing campaign against popular hotels and restaurants inside Cuba that killed an Italian tourist. The story cited documentary evidence that Posada arranged payments to conspirators from accounts in the United States.
Posada landed back in jail in 2000 after Cuban intelligence uncovered a plot to assassinate Castro by planting a bomb at a meeting the Cuban leader planned with university students in Panama.
Panamanian authorities arrested Posada and other alleged co-conspirators in November 2000. In April 2004, they were sentenced to eight or nine years in prison for endangering public safety.
Four months after the sentencing, however, lame-duck Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso - who lives in Key Biscayne, Florida, and has close ties to the Cuban-American community and to George W. Bush's administration - pardoned the convicts.
Despite press reports saying Moscoso had been in contact with US officials about the pardons, the State Department denied that it pressured Moscoso to release the Cuban exiles. After the pardons and just two months before Election 2004, three of Posada's co-conspirators - Guillermo Novo Sampol, Pedro Remon and Gaspar Jimenez - arrived in Miami to a hero's welcome, flashing victory signs at their supporters.
While the terrorists celebrated, US authorities watched the men - also implicated in bombings in New York, New Jersey and Florida - alight on US soil. As Washington Post writer Marcela Sanchez noted in a September 2004 article about the Panamanian pardons, "there is something terribly wrong when the United States, after Sept. 11 (2001), fails to condemn the pardoning of terrorists and instead allows them to walk free on US streets." [Washington Post, Sept. 3, 2004.]
But a whole different set of standards is now being applied to the seven black terrorism suspects in Miami. Even though they had no clear-cut plans or even the tools to carry out terrorist attacks, they have been rounded up amid great media hoopla.
The American people have been reassured that the terrorists in Miami have been located and are being brought to justice.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'