By Nancy Kohn
As the eyes of the nation were focused on a horrific shooting spree in a shopping mall in Tucson, AZ that left 6 dead and 12 wounded, protesters just 300 miles away in El Paso, TX were helping to generate media attention on the crimes of Luis Posada Carriles, a man who is no stranger to carrying out similar acts of violence.
Luis Posada Carriles was involved in premeditated, politically motivated violence targeting civilians of Cuba for four decades. He engaged in recruiting, training, and financing terrorists and terrorist organizations.
The first mid-air downing of a civilian airliner is a stark example of such terrorism. The bombing in 1976 of a civilian Cubana airliner, killing all 73 passengers on board was masterminded by Posada. The plane had taken off from Venezuela, a country which is now trying to extradite him to stand trial for that crime.
International law recognizes the right of countries to defend themselves against terrorist attacks. The Cuban 5 -- Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez -- were young boys in 1976 when the civilian airliner was blown up and they subsequently dedicated their lives to preventing further attacks. The court case of the Cuban 5 made it obvious that the intention of these men was to uncover and prevent further violent acts of terror against Cuba. They have been imprisoned in the U.S. for the last 12 years, while Posada is a free man.
On Jan. 10th, the first day of Posada's trial, two activists from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 were waiting in the lobby of the Camino Real Hotel when we encountered Posada himself coming unaccompanied out of the coffee shop. We approached him and called him a murderer and an assassin who we hoped would be extradited to Venezuela to stand trial for his real crimes rather than the immigration fraud he faces in El Paso. His only response was to place his thumb on his nose and wiggle his fingers at us. He backed into an elevator and his body guards came over to protect him even though we hadn't touched the man.
That morning while jury selection was going on, nearly 80 activists protested for four solid hours in front of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas. The most powerful and evocative banner was that made by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. It displayed portraits of victims of Posada, including those from the downing of the civilian airliner and Fabio DiCelmo, an Italian tourist who died in 1997 in a hotel bombing in Havana, planned by Posada. Besides being the main organizers of the protest at the court house, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five had also organized a People's Tribunal at the Unitarian Universalist Church in El Paso to expose the real crimes of Posada. It was well attended by members of the congregation and activists who traveled from all across the country. The tribunal and demonstration were covered by more than ten news outlets, including international media.
Protesters chanted “Jail Posada – Free the Cuban Five” and “Immigrants, Yes – Terrorists, No.” Down the block stood a group of 18 Cuban-American supporters of Posada whose signs called him innocent and an American hero.
On Wednesday, 82 year old Posada sat alone in the courtroom behind his defense team. His lawyers aren't hiding his CIA connections or avowed hatred of the government of Cuba. Rather, they stated that he is the proud “dean of anti-Castro opponents who is willing to do whatever it takes to destroy the regime.”
Unfortunately, the prosecutors from the Justice Department's Anti-terrorism Unit aren't trying Posada on charges of terrorism, but rather are appealing to the patriotism of the jurors by saying that citizenship in the U.S. is a privilege not an entitlement and that the case revolves around the fact that he lied repeatedly to gain the benefit of naturalization. For them, it is basically a case of perjury.
No matter the outcome of the trial, which is expected to last at least 6 weeks, the presence of activists demanding the immediate release of the Cuban 5 has made it impossible not to see the double standards of the U.S. government when it comes to fighting terrorism.
The media presence from all around the world is tearing off the mask that says the U.S. stands solidly against terrorism. The C.I.A. trained and supported this man and his cohort and the Cuban government was obligated to send intelligence agents to Miami to investigate what crimes Posada and his ilk would commit next. The ramifications of the evidence that will be disclosed in the course of this trial can only bring closer the day when the Cuban 5 will be released from U.S. Prisons.
For after all, what constitutes terrorism? It is generally agreed that terrorist acts are violent, calculated attacks upon non-combatants rather than troops or military targets and that these acts are intended to demoralize and intimidate a population and /or coerce a government. Luis Posada Carriles fits that description, not the Cuban 5.
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5