Our Terrorist in Miami
by Medea Benjamin
On the streets of Miami, Luis Posada Carriles might look like just one of the dozens of nice, elderly Cuban gentlemen who gather outside the Versailles Restaurant for a strong cup of java. But there is nothing nice or gentle about Posada Carriles. For starters, he is responsible for the 1976 downing of a Cuban passenger plane with 73 people on board-the first act of aviation terrorism in the Western hemisphere. In 1997 he orchestrated the bombing of hotels in Havana that resulted in the death of Italian businessman Fabio Di Celmo. In 2000 he was arrested, and later convicted, in Panama for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro by blowing up an auditorium full of students.
On a recent trip to Venezuela, I learned of his sordid history of torturing and assassinating suspected leftists when he worked for the Venezuelan secret police. Jesus Marrero, a student leader in 1973, painfully recounted how Posada Carriles supervised his torture, including electrodes to his penis. Brenda Esquivel, captured when she was 8-months pregnant, says Posada ordered his men to “destroy the seed before it was born”–kicking her so brutally that the baby died in her womb. Her sister Marlene, who was imprisoned with her 20-day-old baby, was forced to watch as Posada’s agents burned her baby with cigarettes.
The U.S. Justice Department has called Posada “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks. ” When he was being held in a U.S. immigration detention center in 2005 for having sneaked into the country with a false passport, the Department of Homeland Security said that due to his long history of criminal activity and violence, his release from detention would “pose a danger to both the community and the national security of the United States.”
So why, then, does Luis Posada Carriles live freely in Miami, eating lechón asado at the Versailles Restaurant, socializing at the Big Five Club, exhibiting his paintings at the Miami Art Museum? Why isn’t he behind bars?
That’s the question that was on our mind when six of us from the women’s peace group CODEPINK went to Miami on January 12 to launch a campaign calling for Posada’s arrest. Armed simply with postcards and a banner asking the FBI to put him on the most-wanted list, we were attacked by a violent mob of Posada supporters as our vehicle moved along Calle Ocho in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. The next day we were pelted with eggs and water bottles. Appearing on a Spanish-language TV program, I was told by fellow panelist Enrique Encinosa that I was “an enemy of the Cuban-American community” and that I shouldn’t be surprised if someone cracked my head open like a coconut.
Posada Carriles and his violent followers who impose their views in Miami through fear and intimidation are relics of the sordid history of U.S. policy in Latin America. Just as in the anti-Soviet efforts in Afghanistan where the U.S. government nurtured the Mujahadeen “freedom fighters” who fought the Soviets, so it trained, financed and provided shelter to those fighting left-leaning governments in this hemisphere, even democratically elected ones. Posada was trained by the U.S. Army and worked as an operative and asset of the CIA from 1960 to 1976. “The C.I.A. taught us everything. They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage, ” Mr. Posada told New York Times reporter Ann Louise Bardach in 1998. “Now they call it terrorism,” he added.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous remark about Nicaraguan dictator Somoza-”he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”-seems to apply to Posada Carriles. Indeed, Posada Carriles may be “our terrorist,” but allowing him to live freely in Miami makes a mockery of the war on terror. On February 8-10, CODEPINK’s anti-terrorist team will return to Miami. We will distribute cards calling for Posada’s arrest, show a documentary film on this man’s violent history, and ask locally elected leaders to join us in calling for Posada to be extradited to Venezuela, where he is wanted on 73 counts of homicide, or detained and prosecuted here in the United States. Unlike our last visit when the Miami police failed to protect us, this time-having ample warning–we expect the police to guarantee our constitutional right to free speech and free assembly.
Vice President Dick Cheney said that “Any person or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent.” President Bush has repeatedly stated that “we will not rest until we eliminate the terrorists and rout them out.”
We understand that some members of Miami’s Cuban-American community consider Posada Carriles a hero for his anti-communist actions. But no cause is so noble that it justifies killing civilians. There is no such thing as good terrorism.
It is time for some moral consistency in this war on terror. Whether Osama bin Laden or Posada Carriles, we must bring all terrorists to justice.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and the Global Exchange.