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Terrorism is never acceptable By: Bernardo Alvarez Herrera

The Politico Magazine
By: Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
May 8, 2007

In the global war on terror, no terrorist is given a free pass. Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of cause or country. But one terrorist living freely in the U.S. is testing that principle.

In 1976, a vicious attack on a civilian Cuban airliner left 73 people dead, including 24 members of Cuba's champion fencing team -- most of them teenagers -- and 11 Guyanese medical students. Until 9/11, this was the deadliest terrorist attack on an airplane in the Western Hemisphere in history. Luis Posada Carriles, a Venezuelan national with a long history of working with the CIA throughout Latin America, was quickly arrested and charged with masterminding the attack. He fled a Venezuelan prison in 1985 while awaiting trial and soon resumed coordinating terrorist acts throughout the region.

In 1997, Posada was linked to a number of bombings in hotels throughout Havana that left one Italian tourist dead and several injured. In 2000, he was arrested for attempting to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro with C-4 explosives placed in an auditorium packed with students in Panama. Each time, he was able to flee or use his influential connections to spring him from jail.

When Posada sneaked into South Florida in early 2005, the government of Venezuela quickly requested that he be extradited to face long overdue justice for the 73 murders on that Cuban airliner. But more than two years have passed, and Posada has yet to be extradited or even charged with the attack. Worse yet, he is currently living freely in Miami, facing only charges of lying to immigration authorities.

In the 22 months that have elapsed since Venezuela requested his extradition, the Department of Justice has failed to present the extradition case to a federal court, despite treaty obligations that require it to do so. Instead, federal authorities initiated immigration proceedings against Posada, during which he cynically claimed he would be tortured if deported to Venezuela. To buttress his spurious allegation, Posada offered a single witness that lawyers from the Department of Homeland Security allowed to testify without cross-examination -- a former associate, business partner, personal lawyer and suspected accomplice in his escape from prison.

And even though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has admitted that Posada has a "long history of criminal activity and violence in which innocent civilians were killed," the Justice Department has not charged him with the 1976 attack (which, based on a 1971 international convention the U.S. is a party to, it is obliged to do), nor has it sought to classify him as a terrorist, as the Patriot Act allows. The U.S. government's foot-dragging in the Posada case has been so extreme that on Sept. 11, 2006, a symbolic date, a judge noted that the government "had other mechanisms ... available to detain (Posada), of which they did not avail themselves."

While relations between Venezuela and the U.S. have been strained, nothing should prevent the U.S. government from either extraditing Posada to Venezuela or prosecuting him for the 1976 bombing. Posada's violent attack could not be justified then; much less should it be overlooked now. Should Posada be allowed to escape justice for his vicious crimes, it will send a powerful message to the international community that some terrorism is acceptable. It isn't.

In a letter to The Miami Herald on April 30, Margarita Morales Fernandez, the daughter of one of those killed in the 1976 bombing, wrote the following: "To see the smiling face of this suspected hit man enjoying freedom brings to mind my mother's tears; she died without ever seeing my father's murderer held accountable for his crime." Hers is but one of the stories of the grieving family and friends of those 73 people killed that day. Granting her the right to see justice done is both necessary and long overdue. The U.S. government has the tools to do that; now it simply has to exercise the will.

Bernardo Alvarez Herrera is Venezuela's ambassador to the U.S.

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