Author: Sergio Alejandro Gómez | email@example.com
On the afternoon of November 17, 2000, Franco Rodríguez Mena was resting in room 310 of the Hotel Coral Suites in Panama City, unaware of the fact that the police had surrounded the building. Hours beforehand, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, who had recently arrived in the country, publicly revealed that Rodríguez Mena was in fact the Cuban terrorist, Luis Faustino Clemente Posada Carriles, and that he was planning to assassinate him during the 10th Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government.
Posada was entrusted with the task as he had already demonstrated that he had the nerve to kill in cold blood. The bombing of a Cuban airplane in 1976 that killed 73 people and the organization of a series of bombings in Havana hotels in the late 90s, which killed Italian tourist Fabio Di Celmo, are just two examples of a life devoted to terror.
The assassination plot consisted of blowing up the Auditorium of the University of Panama, where Fidel would speak before an audience of over a thousand including several heads of state. Posada had a network of collaborators within the country and enjoyed the advice of a select team of terrorists including Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo, Pedro Crispín Remón and Guillermo Novo.
The swift action of the Cuban authorities prevented these criminals from succeeding in their mission. At four in the afternoon, while Fidel visited the San Pablo Apóstol Church, where the remains of General Omar Torrijos lie, one of his assistants handed him a small note saying: “They’ve caught Posada.”
Two years beforehand, as the government of Ernesto Pérez Balladares was coming to an end, diplomat Carlos Zamora Rodríguez took up his post as Cuban ambassador to Panama. The experience he accumulated from that point onwards, he assures, “was essential to confronting the events of late 2000 and the long struggle that would later ensue.”
The high probability that the Cuban leader would attend the Summit in Panama was an excellent opportunity for the counterrevolution, in open crisis since the death of Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of the CANF.
The Miami Mafia wanted to score a big hit to shake them out of their lethargy.
At that time, “the Panamanian territory offered favorable conditions for the attack: vulnerable borders, many deficiencies in its internal security and the penetration of American intelligence services in strategic areas of the country, especially the military sector and communications.”
The counterrevolution could not miss the opportunity and selected those who would carry out the mission: “Posada Carriles and Novo Sampoll had never worked together. Sampoll had a personal history in the city of New Jersey; he was linked with the DINA during the Pinochet dictatorship in the 70s and 80s and participated in the assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier.”
Posada Carriles, meanwhile, lived for several years in Venezuela until he was arrested for his involvement in the bombing of the Cubana de Aviación plane, in 1976; when he managed to escape from prison he established himself in Ilopango, in El Salvador, and from there he prepared a terrorist squad composed mainly of Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans.
“For his part, Jiménez Escobedo was an important member of the CANF in Miami, and Remón achieved notoriety with his participation in the assassination of Cuban official Félix García Rodríguez, and the plotting of other attacks in the United States.”
While the four characters dedicated themselves to the same activity, they were independent in their actions. The mafia managed to unite them with the aim of hitting Panama hard.
“The terrorists were working with more than one variant to achieve their mission: to blow up Fidel’s plane on touchdown, to carry out an attack during the transfer from the airport to the hotel where he would stay, or during any other tour he would undertake during the Ibero-American Summit, and finally, to blow up the Auditorium of the University...where an act of solidarity with Cuba would take place.”
“During the months before the Summit, several of these counterrevolutionaries visited Panama to study the terrain and organize internal support. It is proven that between August and September 2000, Posada Carriles and Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo entered the country with the same passports used in November.”
“The terrorists studied the locations of the Summit, especially the hotel where the heads of state would be hosted. But security operations in the area complicated the possibility of making an attempt on Fidel’s life there. The circumstances were closing the different possibilities and they decided to focus their efforts on the plan to blow up the Auditorium of the University.
“Their entry into the country in the days before the Summit was to finalize the preparations for the attack. A party entered via the international airport and another over the Costa Rican border and traveled overland to Panama City.”
If the terrorists believed they could act with impunity in Panama, they did not take into account Cuba’s security service, which, long before, was following them and aware of their plans.
“The Cuban authorities handed over a list of the terrorists to the Panamanians, with their aliases and the types of passport that could be used to enter the country. All the individuals involved in planning the attack were included. I witnessed the conversations with the authorities in Panama, in which we expressed the concern of the Cuban delegation given the presence of these terrorists and the threat posed to the security of the Comandante en Jefe and the Cuban party.”
“I am convinced that the Panamanian security services had in their hands all the elements necessary to detain Posada and his group.”
“Despite the threat, Cuba did not shirk its responsibility. The Comandante said he would not absent himself due to the risk. But once in Panama, and as they had not acted to stop the terrorists, we had the right to make a public denouncement and demand compliance with the law.”
“That Fidel himself made the denunciation had an extraordinary impact on the national and international press, and was instrumental in measures being taken against the terrorists. Having ignored the Cuban claim, Mireya Moscoso would have been an accomplice to an assassination plot.”
At nearly four in the afternoon that day, the police detained Posada and Sampoll, who were sharing the same room, in the Coral Suite Hotel. Crespín Remón and Gaspar Jiménez arrived at the scene by car and noticed the operation, but were unable to evade the authorities, who caught them near the hotel.
With the four men detained, the investigation by the Panamanian authorities corroborated the Cuban claims and evidence was found for the attempt, including nine kilograms of C-4 and diagrams of the location where they intended to detonate the device.
Despite the abundant evidence, it would be three years before the terrorists stood in the dock.
“The Panamanian people themselves and their grassroots movements demanded justice. Some two thousand people and personalities from all political forces, both left and right wing, were due to gather in the Auditorium of the National University of Panama. Had the terrorists been successful, Panama would have been the September 11 of Latin America.”
“Popularpressure forcedMoscosotoinitiate proceedings, even though, from the beginning, her intention was tosecure afriendlyoutcome withU.S.and the counterrevolutionarysectors ofMiamiwhich would allow herto release the terroristswith the least possiblepolitical cost.But all the politicalruses toavoid the trialfailedand they were unable to sell the imageofPosadaand his associatesasa group of sickand helplesselderly to the public.”
In mid 2003, the trial of the four terrorists began: “The government then sought to turn the process into a farce that would symbolically condemn the terrorists and at the same time, let them go free. But the plan of the President clashed with that of the prosecutor for the case, Argentina Barreda, and Judge Enrique Paniza, who maintained a dignified attitude and did not allow themselves to be corrupted.
“As the courts didn’t yield to the pressure from the Executive, legal maneuvers began: the terrorists faced three charges which would mean a sentence of between 11 and 15 years in prison, as the maximum sentence established by Panamanian law is 20 years imprisonment and in this case, fortunately, they did not manage to carry out the attack. They then vetoed Judge Paniza, who was in favor of applying the full force of the law, and replaced him with José Ho Justiniani, a man they trusted. The latter combined all the charges into just one, and reduced the sentence to seven years in prison and an extra year for Carriles and Gaspar Jiménez for document forgery.”
The Miami mafia was not satisfied with the reduction of the sentences, and pressured Moscoso to fulfill her initial commitment to free Posada and his group. But the President was facing a serious problem: her term was coming to an end and the terrorists were serving sentences of seven and eight years. There was also a pending appeal process before the Supreme Court that could increase their sentences.
“The pardon was MireyaMoscoso’sfinal card, but the Panamanian Constitutiondid not permitgrantingthis benefitfor common crimeswithouta final judgment. Faced with the dilemma, the Presidentinventedan allegedconfrontation betweenPanamaandCubaandaccusedthe Revolutionof threateningthe security ofher country.It was a maneuver conceived and designedto createthe necessary conditionsin thenational and international publicopinion andreduce thepolitical impactof the measure which, obviously, she waspreparing totake.”
“As part of this strategy, I was declared a persona non grata and my expulsion from Panama within 48 hours was ordered. During the long battle for justice, from the Summit until the day of the pardon, we simply fulfilled our duty and we were guided by the values of the Revolution.”
“On my arrival in Cuba, on August 26, 2004, Mireya Moscoso signed the pardon and released the four terrorists.”
At 6:30 am, they boarded a plane paid for by the Miami mafia and headed for Honduras. From there, Posada Carriles illegally entered the United States, where he remains free due to the large commitments he has with the CIA.”