Cuban-born former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles is facing a deportation hearing El Paso today. The judge will look at Posada’s record to determine whether he should get asylum in the United States. Protests around the U.S. and Canada are calling for Posada’s extradition to Venezuela for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. [includes rush transcript]
We turn now to the latest in the case of Cuban-born former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, the man identified by Havana as a leading anti-Castro terrorist. Posada has a deportation hearing today. El Paso Immigration Judge William Abbott will look at whether Posada entered the country illegally in March.
Posada is wanted internationally for a slew of crimes against the Cuban government and president Fidel Castro. The Venezuelan government is currently demanding Posada’s extradition. So far Washington has refused to turn him over, saying that Caracas is in the service of Fidel Castro.
Also at stake in today’s hearing is whether the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba should be considered an act of U.S. terrorism. Judge Abbott asked lawyers in the case to prepare briefs on whether Posada provided material support for terrorist activities. He participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion as a CIA operative. Posada is also accused of orchestrating the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane, killing 73 people including the entire Cuban Olympic fencing team.
Protests in support of Posada’s extradition are being held around the United States and Canada today to coincide with the hearing. We go now to three of the participants in the demonstration outside the El Paso courthouse.
- Gloria La Riva, with the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition. She is a lead organizer for today’s protests.
- Roseanne Nenninger, sister of Raymond Persaud, who died in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner while he was on his way to attend medical school in Cuba. She was 11-years-old at the time of Raymond’s death.
- Almudena Bernabeu, attorney with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability. She is representing the Persaud family in a possible lawsuit against Posada in relation to the death of Raymond Persaud.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to El Paso to three of the people who will be outside the El Paso courthouse. We’re joined in El Paso by Gloria La Riva. She is with International ANSWER, lead organizer for today’s protest. Also with us, Roseanne Nenninger, she’s the sister of Raymond Persaud, who died in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner, while he was on his way to attend medical school in Cuba. She was 11 years old at the time of Raymond’s death. Our third guest is Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability. She’s representing the Persaud family in a possible lawsuit against Posada in relation to the death of Raymond. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Gloria La Riva. Can you talk about the significance of today’s case and why this is a case being heard in immigration court?
GLORIA LA RIVA: Well, we actually think that the hearing today is a diversion from the real issue that Posada Carriles should be extradited to Venezuela for the crime of the bombing of the 1976 plane, because that is where he plotted and provided the bombs to the two men who planted the bombs on the plane as it took off from Barbados. Today’s hearing, however, gives us an opportunity to demonstrate to the world Posada’s history of terrorism, and the role the United States in backing him, financing him, arming him. He was a C.I.A. operative and his attorney, Eduardo Soto in the hearing that first took place on June 13th, where we were protesting, as well, Eduardo Soto told the press that his client, Posada Carriles has been a C.I.A.. agent from 1961 until at least the 1990s. And that’s a very significant piece of information.
AMY GOODMAN: The downing of the Cuban airliner in 1976 is not a story that people know very much in this country, which is why I want to turn next to Roseanne Nenninger, the sister of Raymond Persaud. I know you were 11 at the time, but if you could talk about what happened on that day when the plane went down, what you understood, and Gloria will have to ask you the question, should just describe, since I know you cannot hear me yourself.
GLORIA LA RIVA: Can you describe what happened on the day when the plane went down, to your family, and what impact it had on that day for you?
ROSEANNE NENNINGER: Well, I’ll just start the night before. We had a huge farewell party for our brother, Raymond Persaud, and everyone came, the family members, everyone from the local community, all his friends, school friends, so it was a great day for all of us. And the next day, we all went to the airport. We did not go to school. He was dressed in his brown suit that was made by a tailor especially for him getting on a plane. It was his first time on an airplane. We watched him walk on the tarmac and head onto the airplane. And it was a great moment for all of us. It was a great moment for our family. We were so happy for him. This was the day that he was going to be going to start his new life as a medical student in Cuba.
When we came back home, it was a hot day, and we all took naps. We were awoken by our cousin at the time, who worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs, and she came in and she said, "Please everyone, sit down." And we knew that something was wrong, because this was the first time she has come to our house in the middle of a workday. And my mom, with that scared look on her face, you know, she said, "Why are you here? What’s going on?" And she said the plane that Raymond was on went down into the Caribbean waters. And it was just terrible. It was truly a horrible moment for the family.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria La Riva, can you talk about the evidence that connects Posada, Luis Posada Carriles, to this deadly bombing of the Cuban jetliner?
GLORIA LA RIVA: There’s a great deal of evidence of Posada’s role in the bombing of the plane, and much of it is available now on declassified C.I.A. and F.B.I. documents. It’s really stunning. You can get some of that on the National Security Archives. But one of the main pieces of evidence is that the two men who planted the bomb, Hernan Ricardo and Freddie Lugo, left from Venezuela with the bombs, and while the plane was en route from Venezuela to Barbados, they planted two bombs on the plane in the bathroom in the fore and aft. And then the plane landed in Barbados. They got off the plane in Barbados. The plane exploded six minutes after takeoff. And Freddie Lugo and Hernan Ricardo went immediately by taxi to the U.S. Embassy in Barbados. And it was a building that was not recognized as a U.S. embassy. It was in a bank building. They knew where it was, however. And the first two phone calls that they made were to Orlando Bosch and Posada Carriles who were in Venezuela at the time.
One of the F.B.I. intelligence specialists — I don’t know if he works for the F.B.I. anymore, his name is Mr. — excuse me, I have to recall his name — he has been quoted in the press as saying there is no other suspect, but Posada and Bosch. And they have alluded to their role in it, although they won’t directly admit it. However, Posada’s role is far more extensive than even just the plane bombing, although 73 people died on that plane. After that when he escaped from prison in 1985 from Venezuela, he was involved in the Iran-Contra drug and arms trafficking while he was based in Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador. He was a direct operative with Oliver North, and he was the one who — after Eugene Hasenfus, the C.I.A. pilot was downed in 1986, it was Posada who cleared away all of the evidence of the arms and the drugs. He has been one of the key C.I.A. agents whose role has been extremely bloody.
And then he, of course, bragged to The New York Times in 1998, that he paid Guatemalan and Salvadoran mercenaries to plant bombs in Cuban hotels, because his objective, he said, was to try to destroy Cuba’s tourism, a great source of income for the country. And the young 27-year-old Italian tourist, Fabio Di Celmo, was murdered by one of the bombs on September 4, 1997.
Every time that Posada has escaped from prison, he has carried out more death, more terror. It’s why we say that the real justice would be by extraditing him to the Venezuela, and it’s why the ANSWER Coalition spearheaded a campaign beginning with our discovery that he was in the U.S. in April, including the release of a letter-writing campaign that we launched in April in which within weeks 40,000 people in the United States wrote letters to Bush and to Congress demanding his extradition. Once the American people are aware of his history, they would not want him to be freed, like his accomplice, Orlando Bosch, who lives and walks the streets free in Miami and who was given really virtually a pardon by George Bush, Sr.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Gloria La Riva, organizer with International ANSWER, also Roseanne Nenninger, sister of Raymond Persaud, who died in the deadly 76 bombing of the Cubana airliner. Almudena Bernabeu is also with us, with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability.
And Gloria, I would like you to ask her this question, since I know she can’t hear me directly, but before I do, I was in Cuba in the New Year’s weekend of December/January, 1997/1998, at the Copacabana Hotel, where the father of the Italian tourist refused to leave. His son had been killed there, as you said in September. And every day he would stay in the corner right near where his son had died and continued to mourn him. Luis Posada, taking credit for masterminding these bombings of hotels to Ann Louise Bardach, the reporter for The New York Times who did a big expose, meeting with him in a secret location, Luis Posada, in the period after that, as he took credit for these attacks.
Almudena Bernabeu, this is an immigration hearing. What are you doing in San Antonio, and how does the bombing of the Cuban jetliner, the killing of Raymond Persaud — you’re now in El Paso — how does this fit in with an immigration hearing?
GLORIA LA RIVA: Almudena, this is an immigration hearing. And why are you in El Paso? How does the issue of the plane bombing fit in with your presence in El Paso?
ALMUDENA BERNABEU: Yeah, well, I’m actually representating for the Center for Justice and Accountability the sisters, the Persaud sisters, Roseanne Nenninger and Sharon Persaud. And I’m actually coming —
AMY GOODMAN: If could you speak up — I don’t think you are properly miked. If could you speak up — Gloria, tell her to speak up, please.
ALMUDENA BERNABEU: — Posada Carriles, that I agree with Gloria, and I think [inaudible] that he needs to be extradited, to be prosecuted. C.J.A. represents victims of torture and families of the victims, and we believe that these guys, guys like Posada Carriles [inaudible] need to be held accountable. And at this point there’s a good chance [inaudible] extradition pending, and I think it should be observed and it should be honored, and then this guy face justice in the process, the criminal process. It’s pending since, you know, he was indicted. Back in 1976, he was still pending a trial, due to his — the fact that he fled, you know, in 1985, as Gloria pointed out before.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria La Riva, let me wrap up with you what the plans are around the country now for protests today and whether you see what the Bush administration is now saying about Posada? If the cameraman could tell you the question, we’re talking to them in a studio in El Paso. Tell us about the protests? Well, it sounds like they have lost the IFB, we will certainly continue to follow this story. Gloria La Riva has been with us, organizer with International ANSWER; also Roseanne Nenninger, sister of Raymond Persaud, who died in the deadly 1976 bombing. We’re going to Camp Casey to hear finally from Sean O’Neill, who was the U.S. soldier who went to Iraq and returned. We’ll end the broadcast with that. But I want to thank you all for joining us from El Paso.