Posada Carriles: ‘The bin Laden of the Americas’
by Horace Campbell
May 5, 2011
Reprinted from Pambazuke News
The news regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden by United States military forces hit the airwaves on Sunday, 1 May 2011, prompting jubilation among many people in the United States and other places around the world. This triumphalism of US citizens, who were directly or indirectly affected by the military activities of bin Laden’s al Qaeda group, emanated from the belief that bin Laden’s death served justice to the victims for the 11 September 2001 attack on the US. It is, however, important to note that as dreadful as bin Laden was, modern international terrorism did not begin with him. As quiet as it is kept, international terrorism did not begin on 11 September 2001. Before Osama bin Laden, there was Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles, also known as Posada Carriles or ‘Bambi’, according to a de-classified CIA file.
On 6 October 1976, plastic explosives stuffed in tubes of toothpaste brought down Cubana Flight 455 leaving Barbados for Cuba. This singular attack on the Cubana Airline killed all 73 passengers on board, including some of the best athletes in the Caribbean, and was especially felt among Cuban youths who lost 24 members of their Olympic fencing team. This fencing team had recently competed and obtained all gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championship. Investigations by the governments of Cuba, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela and the United States ascertained that the mastermind of the explosion was Posada Carriles. The Caribbean demanded that Carriles and his accomplices be brought to swift justice.
Carriles was a key operative in many CIA campaigns against Fidel Castro and Cuba. Additionally, Posada was involved in a wider campaign of political repression involving kidnappings and assassinations all across South America. This campaign, called Operation Condor, had the special imprint of the dictators in Argentina and Chile. Orlando Letelier was a former minister of Chilean president, Salavador Allende’s government, who along with his secretary was assassinated by a car bomb explosion in Washington, D.C. on 21 September 1976. This was an example of American supported terrorism spilling on to the streets of the capital of the United States. Posada Carriles was directly linked to Operation Condor and to the assassination of Orlando Leteiler. It was only weeks after this killing on the streets of Washington that terror struck the Caribbean in the attack on the Cubana flight.
Carriles was reported to have boasted about his involvement in the bombing of the Cubana aircraft. He was for a short time incarcerated in Venezuela, but later ‘escaped.’ After this ‘ escape’ on 18 August 1985, and hiding out for 15 days, Posada was whisked away from Venezuela and transported to Aruba on a shrimp boat. From Aruba, he travelled on a private aircraft to Costa Rica and afterwards to El Salvador where he was at the frontline in the terror campaign against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
The trail of blood and destruction left by Carriles in the Caribbean, South and Central America over the past 50 years are a hallmark of the veritable history of the CIA in the Americas. During the military destabilisation and devastation that was called the ‘Contra Wars,’ Posada Carriles was a key asset for the right-wing US forces, and he has been associated with death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. Posada, while working as security advisor to the government of Guatemala, carried a Guatemalan passport. This was a country where 40-50,000 people disappeared during the war and approximately 200,000 were killed. In the 1990s, it was from this genocidal space where Posada and the Cuban National Foundation planned more terrorist attacks against Cuba.
In 1997, Carriles masterminded a series of bombings in Havana that killed a tourist. The Panamanian government in 2000 convicted Carriles in an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro who was visiting Panama for a summit. Posada Carriles served four years in prison before he was pardoned by the Panamanian president in her last week in office. Undoubtedly, the Panamanians succumbed to pressures from the US security forces.
A fugitive from Caribbean justice, in 2005, Carriles turned up in the United States, where he was arrested and charged with minor immigration offences. Instead of prosecuting Carriles for the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 and other terrorist acts, the United States only accused him of obstruction of justice and perjury. Specifically, the US accused Carriles of lying to an immigration officer about the manner in which he entered the United States.
In this post-9/11 world, where the United States has manufactured jurisdiction, pressured or cut deals with other countries to extradite those on its terror watch or most wanted lists, these negligible charges reinforce the double standards of the United States in relation to terrorism and terrorists. The governments of the Caribbean, especially Barbados, Cuba, Trinidad and Venezuela, which have pursued Carriles for over 30 years, were outraged when Carriles was acquitted of even these minimal charges in a trial held in El Paso, Texas on 8 April 2011. The fact that he was tried on immigration and perjury charges instead of charges related to acts of terrorism was itself an indicator of the blowback that confronts the US as it seeks to present itself as a force against terrorism internationally. Today, in the aftermath of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Caribbean people are calling on President Obama to extradite Posada to Venezuela to stand trial.
BIN LADEN OF THE AMERICAS OR AMERICA’S FREEDOM FIGHTER?
Posada Carriles has been identified with acts of international terror for over 50 years. Born in Cuba in 1928, Carriles left Cuba after the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship and joined the forces fighting against Fidel Castro in Cuba. Because he was fighting communism – in this case, communism in Cuba – in the eyes of the US, Posada Carriles was not a terrorist, but a freedom fighter. But ‘fighting for freedom’ US-style was not confined to terrorist acts solely against Cuba. As noted above, these acts were carried out against the peoples of the Caribbean and Venezuela. Carriles was trained in the use of explosives by the CIA, and his use of a tube of toothpaste for the bomb came from training that he and his forces received from the CIA. Although Carrilles was an anti-communist zealot, it was his training by the CIA and CIA finances that made him a lethal force.
It was the same anti-communist zeal that was inspired within the Caribbean when the US mobilised in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In this war, the tactics and strategies of Carriles and the Caribbean terrorists were mobilised to train anti-communist forces of all forms, especially persons such as Osama bin Laden. Sources from the West itself do not contest the fact that during the anti-Soviet jihad, bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA. This training followed the lines that had been refined with the anti-communist Cubans. The strength of the recruitment of Osama bin Laden was that, unlike Posada, Osama provided some of his own money and helped raise millions from other wealthy anti-communist Arabs. Osama bin Laden then recruited hundreds of thousands for his jihad. Today, many countries in Africa are suffering the repercussions of this alliance between the CIA and Osama bin Laden
It was a strange twist of history that the release of Posada Carriles came on 8 April 2011 approximately nine days before the 50th anniversary of the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. This aborted invasion continues to have a decisive effect on the politics of the US. The failure of this invasion is one of the alleged reasons that sections of the US intelligence and military establishment decided to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. This has been the allegation in numerous books on the assassination of President John Kennedy. The most recent book outlining in detail the culpability of the intelligence agencies was written by James Douglass, ‘JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters’. Douglass presents a very compelling argument that Kennedy was killed by ‘unspeakable’ forces within the US national security establishment and pointed to the links of these unspeakable forces to international terrorism. Scholars and researchers are still awaiting the declassification of the information on a CIA elite intelligence unit called Operation 40 to shed more light on JFK’s assassination.
This episode of the killing of a US President and the efforts of the CIA to assassinate President Fidel Castro of Cuba have now been well considered as high points of US support for international terrorism. No less a body than the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) in 1975 discussed alleged plots to kill foreign leaders. Known as the Church Committee, this Senate body investigated alleged plots to kill: Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic), Ngo Dinh Diem (Vietnam) and Rene Schneider (Chile). The report established that the US government was implicated in several of these assassination plots. The Church Committee’s report stated that, ‘short of war, assassination is incompatible with American principles, international order and morality. It should be rejected as a tool of foreign policy.’ Despite this admonition by a committee of the United States Senate, the CIA, working with its agent Carriles, stuffed explosives in tubes of toothpaste to kill young Caribbeans a year later.
Any terrorist organisation needs a pool of citizens willing to carry out acts of terrorism. After the debacle of the Bay of Pigs (17-19 April 1961), the US intelligence and military circles found a pool of willing accomplices from among the ranks of those Cuban exiles who were bent on overturning the socialist experiment in Cuba. These exiles had repaired to Miami, Florida and acted as a conservative force in US politics for over half a century. They not only supported the most brutal dictators in Latin America but were hired by the US to destabilise the Democratic Republic of the Congo so that the African independence project could be derailed.
Posada Carriles hailed from this Cuban exile Community in Florida; he was associated with groups that carried names such as Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos, the Cuban American National Foundation, and Brothers to the Rescue. Among the more infamous of these American ‘ freedom fighters’ were Orlando Bosch (recently deceased) and Jorge Mas Canosa. Numerous reports from quality news outlets identified Posada Carriles as someone who had been in the service of the CIA since 1961. According to a lengthy New York Times article in 1998, titled ‘A Bombers Tale: Taking Aim at Castro; Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles’ Backing,’ we are told:
‘Jailed for one of the most infamous anti-Cuban attacks, the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cubana airliner, [Carriles] eventually escaped from a Venezuelan prison to join the centerpiece of the Reagan White House’s anti-Communist crusade in the Western Hemisphere: Lieut. Col. Oliver L. North’s clandestine effort to supply arms to Nicaraguan contras.’
The experiences of US terror throughout Latin America during the Reagan years require that peace activists internationally have a different orientation on terrorism than the United States. The long-standing war in Colombia in the so called ‘war on drugs’ was part of a process of militarisation and destructive terrorism that wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and Central America. Posada Carriles along with Elliot Abrams, a foreign policy official within the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who was convicted in 1991 for withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra affair; and John Negroponte and other luminaries of the conservative forces in the US played key roles in supplying and supervising the CIA-backed contra mercenaries who were based in Honduras. This Contra War claimed over 50,000 lives.
During the same period, Honduran military death squads, operating with Washington’s support, assassinated hundreds of opponents of the US-backed regime. Negroponte later surfaced as US Ambassador to Iraq and was a leading spokesperson in the ‘war on terror.’ Negroponte had held cabinet-level positions in both George W. Bush’s and Reagan’s administrations such as the first ever Director of National Intelligence and US Ambassador to the UN (Bush) and Deputy National Security Advisor (Reagan).
As the case of Carriles and many others demonstrate, long before the anti-communist jihad, long before Bin Laden, and long before declaring the infamous global war on terror, the US had trained and enlisted some of the world’s most notorious terrorists and called them ‘ freedom fighters.’ Most sections of the US media acknowledge that the FBI and the CIA were quite aware of the terrorist activities of Posada Carriles. Posada Carriles was a ‘ freedom fighter’ for the US in the Caribbean and Latin America, while Osama bin Laden was a ‘freedom fighter’ for the US in Asia and just as Jonas Savimbi was a ‘freedom fighter’ in Africa. This was the same period when those legitimately fighting for liberation in Africa were deemed to be terrorists. The same CIA and the US military labelled the African National Congress of South Africa a terrorist organisation and its leaders were considered terrorists.
Carriles’ escapades as an American ‘freedom fighter’ did not end with his escape from incarceration in Venezuela in the 1980’s or with his links to the 1997 Cuban bombings. Carriles was complicit in many terrorist activities directly or indirectly related with many of the over 600 plots to assassinate Castro. In 2000, Posada was arrested with 200 pounds of explosives, along with three associates. Five Cubans who worked to expose to the US authorities the terrorist activities of the Cuban American National Foundation and other exile groups in Miami were arrested by the US in 1998. The Cuban Five, also known as the Miami Five (Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González), are five Cubans convicted in Miami of espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and other illegal activities in the US. These Cubans, who exposed acts of terrorism planned from US soil, are still incarcerated while Posada Carriles walks free.
SEPTEMBER 2011 AND THE ‘ WAR ON TERROR’
While the FBI and the US security forces were working to convict the Cuban Five, right before their very noses, the conspirators planning September 11 were being trained at a flight training school in Florida to use airplanes as weapons against US targets. Subsequent to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001, security efforts to ‘ make the world safe from terrorism’ became a major preoccupation for the US government, influencing global politics, banking and commerce, diplomacy and the movement of ideas and peoples across the globe. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks there was an outpouring of solidarity from all parts of the globe for the citizens of the United States. The US government sought to benefit from this solidarity and ascribed unto itself the task of leading the international effort to combat terrorism (supposedly on behalf of the rest of the world). For a short moment, the media represented Afghanistan as the base for international terrorists, and in particular Osama Bin Laden. The US government launched a war against the Taliban government of Afghanistan in October 2001, and Central Asia became one of the primary fronts in the war against terrorism.
President George W. Bush argued after the September 11 attacks that, ‘aiding and harboring terrorists’ was on the same level as committing terrorist acts. The fact that 30 years after the attacks on the Cubana Airlines the US continued to harbour the known perpetrators of the crime, brought to the fore the reality that the US government had been committing terrorist acts long before September 11 and its so-called war on terror. It was much clearer after 11 September 2001 that the rule of harbouring terrorists only applied to those who the US deemed to be terrorists.
POSADA ON TRIAL
The full details of the comings and goings of Carriles in the service of the CIA is in the public domain. When Posada Carriles entered the US in 2005, the vigilance of the Caribbean investigators ensured that his quiet return was publicised. There was a massive demonstration in Cuba exposing the double standards of the Bush administration that was fighting terrorism but protecting terrorists. Posada Carriles was arrested and charged with eleven counts of perjury and obstruction only after the publicity from the Caribbean and the calls from Venezuela for him to be extradited back to Venezuela to stand trial.
This is how the New York Times in 2006 carried the story of his detention in the United States:
‘Cubana Airlines Flight 455 crashed off the coast of Barbados on Oct. 6, 1976, killing all 73 people aboard. Plastic explosives stuffed into a toothpaste tube ignited the plane, according to recently declassified police records. Implicated in the attack, but never convicted, was Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile who has long sought to topple the government of Fidel Castro. Today, Mr. Posada, 78, is in a detention center in El Paso, held on an immigration violation while the government tries to figure out what to do with him. His case presents a quandary for the Bush administration, at least in part because Mr. Posada is a former CIA operative and United States Army officer who directed his wrath at a government that Washington has long opposed. Despite insistent calls from Cuba and Venezuela for his extradition, the administration has refused to send him to either country for trial.’
The strength of the terrorist alliances with the US ensured that Carriles understood that he was above the law. As his attorney, Felipe D. J. Millan, tellingly asked in the above New York Times article, ‘How can you call someone a terrorist who allegedly committed acts on your behalf?’ Mr. Millan went further to defend Carriles’ actions that though Carriles was considered a terrorist in Latin America and the Caribbean he indeed was a freedom fighter for the US. Mr. Millan maintained that by denying or ignoring the fact that Carriles acts were committed in his fight for America, ‘would be the equivalent of calling Patrick Henry or Paul Revere or Benjamin Franklin a terrorist.’
When Carriles was acquitted on all charges in the El Paso court on 8 April, the Caribbean community was collectively outraged. In Barbados, where the initial terrorist act was committed, the editorial of the main newspaper, The Nation, was: ‘Painful Recall Over Acquittal of Cuban Exile.’
The Venezuelan government protested the acquittal and demanded that the United States comply with international treaties and extradite Posada Carriles to face trial before a Venezuelan court. The Venezuelan government further mentioned that, ‘the legal proceedings in El Paso represented little more than a continuation of Washington’s protection of the CIA terrorist, which, the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry said, has become an emblematic case of US double standards in the international fight against terrorism.’ The Cuban government described the verdict as an ‘outrage’ and an ‘ insult,’ charging that Washington continues to harbor and protects ‘the Osama bin Laden of Latin America.’
LESSONS FOR THE YOUNGER GENERATION
Students in Africa who do not know the history of United States terrorism will need to study the country’s intricate plot to assassinate presidents and freedom fighters at home and abroad, in addition to understanding the relationship of some US law enforcement agencies to international terrorism. The US justifies its creation of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) on the grounds that it is assisting the fight against terrorism in Africa. People that really care about Africa must question the credibility of AFRICOM against the background of the US tradition of training terrorists to fight for American interests while labelling freedom fighters as terrorists. How credible is the US war on terror when the country harbours such a brutal terrorist as Posada Carriles while keeping in custody the Cuban Five? Brutal terrorism of the Posada genre is reinforced by the economic terror against Cuba as manifest in the illegal economic blockade against Cuba. The conservative forces of the Cuban National Foundation in Florida are now connected to counter revolutionary forces against the rights of ordinary citizens in the US.
Students in the US who study International Relations are seduced by the discourse on fighting against terror, but these students are presented with abstractions that leave out the history of US-sponsored terrorism, especially in the past 50 years. Illegitimate US aggression throughout the globe by the CIA and sections of the US armed forces is a familiar political phenomenon and is well documented for those who care for the truth. The Federation of American Scientists has chronicled the numerous interventions by the US since 1945 and among the activities listed have been armed aggression, destabilizing governments, suppressing movements for social change, assassinating political leaders, perverting the course of elections, manipulating labour unions, manufacturing ‘news’ teaching torture, creating death squads, engaging in biological warfare and drug trafficking, training mercenaries, and working with Nazis and their collaborators. Scholars and activists who write on low intensity wars have been highlighting the ways in which the government of the United States was the principal supporter of terrorism. Noam Chomsky has been forthright in documenting the ways the US has acted as the leading terrorist state in the world, showing how these relationships have operated in Latin America for decades.
The US Africa Command created a disinformation platform, Operation Objective Voice, to confuse Africans. One of the requirements of psychological warfare and information warfare is for some truth to serve as the basis of the information that is being peddled. The experience of Posada Carriles is one of the examples that expose the false narrative that the US is genuinely involved in a war against terror. There is so much public information on the details of the Cubana Airlines flight 455 that any objective voice within the US military today would seek to distance themselves from the forces within the state that supported dastardly acts of terror and international crimes. In reality, however, the criminal actions associated with killing 73 Caribbean youths are compounded by the economic terrorism unleashed by the US banking system and the forces that spread the doctrine of neo-liberal capitalism. Billions of dollars are scooped up from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America by the US financial oligarchy and these are the forces that benefit from all forms of terror. Direct crimes such as those of Carriles and the economic crimes of the International Monetary Fund are two sides of the terror of international capitalism. These forces collaborated yesterday to assassinate John F. Kennedy and are at work today to ensure that in spite of the economic crisis, billions are spent on weapons and the spread of wars in Afghanistan, Libya and other parts of the world. Is it possible that Carriles was not incarcerated because he has information that would be even more explosive than the facts revealed in the books on Operation Condor, ‘The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents’ and ‘JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters?’ According to an organisation called the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five:
‘A footnote in a document filed by Posada’s lead defense attorney on January 28, 2010, is quite revealing about the kind of classified information that Posada Carriles threatens to expose in the course of the trial. His attorney, Arturo Hernández, argues in that motion, ‘ The Defendant’s CIA relationship, stemming from his work against the Castro regime through his anti-communist activities in Venezuela and Central America, are relevant and admissible to his defense.’ The motion furthermore alleges that the US government had been complicit in bomb-setting in Cuba and asked the court to compel the government to declassify all information that shows the ‘ involvement, knowledge, acquiescence and complicity [of the U.S. Government] in sabotage or bombings in Cuba.’ Also, the motion requests disclosure of ‘ [t]raining, instructions, memos or other documents reflecting orders to the Defendant to maintain secrecy and not disclose his relationship or information regarding his activities on behalf of the U.S. Government or any of its Agencies.’
Now that many Americans feel that justice have been served with the death of bin Laden, the question is: do the citizens of the Caribbean and their relatives and acquaintances, who were victims of Posada Carriles’ terrorism, deserve justice?
The acquittal of Carriles reminds us of the dangerous intersection between militarism, terrorism and those forces that profit from war and mind control. Could the global war on terror be an exercise in mind control just as the trial and acquittal of Carriles exposed the contradiction of decades of unleashing terror? The fact that the Obama administration could not reverse the intersection of history and the contemporary heritage of the operations of the US terror machine ensure that it is up to the peace movement to intensify the efforts to dismantle the financial-military-information complex that remains above international law.
* Horace Campbell is professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’. See www.horacecampbell.net.