I've had several encounters with Posada: some pleasant, some disturbing, all unforgettable. All news stories unfold with their own surprising rhythms, but no story has taken me on such an unforeseen voyage as the case of Luis Posada Carriles.
Contrary to the fulminations of Hugo Chávez, Judge Norbert Garney's recommendation on September 11th that Posada be released was not a case of judicial bias. True, the date seemed somewhat inauspicious, but the ruling stemmed from the simple fact that the U.S. government, for all intents and purposes, did not mount a case to justify Posada’s continued detention.
Instead of drawing upon 45 years of voluminous CIA and FBI files on Posada, their exhibits consisted of news stories from The New York Times—quite a few co-authored by myself—and The Miami Herald, among others. And then they did something quite remarkable. Rather than produce witnesses and materials from their vast trove of government information and sources, they subpoenaed The New York Times for all research materials relating to our stories and interviews with Posada. The Times vigorously fought the subpoena in the 11th Circuit United States District Court. On September 11th—(were they trying to send a message?)—a lawyer from the Justice Department called the Times again and said the government would issue another subpoena if we refused to help them with their case.
On August 30, 2005, I and other reporters crammed into an El Paso courtroom to watch Posada's dramatic trial. But except for Posada's own witnesses, there was no trial. Clearly, someone in the Bush Administration had made the decision that it preferred to leave no fingerprints on this high voltage arraignment. If the media could not make the government's case against Posada, there would be no case, leaving the judge no option but to rule for the defense. This was clear not only to reporters, but to Posada's attorneys, who had already been privately assured by the government, that Posada would not be deported to Venezuela. "For political reasons, they didn't want to come right out and say that they will go for deferral [Posada remaining in detention in the U.S.]," Posada's attorney, Matthew Archambeault explained at the time. "They wanted the judge to decide."
That morning the court addressed Venezuela’s request for Posada’s deportation to Caracas, to stand trial for the Cubana bombing of October 1976, which killed 73 people. (Posada had escaped from prison in 1985 while awaiting trial). Joaquín Chaffardet, an attorney who represented Posada in Caracas, and who worked with him in Venezuelan intelligence (and was later his partner in a detective agency) , testified that if Posada were to be sent to Venezuela, he would likely be tortured. The government offered no witnesses or evidence to rebut his testimony. Not surprisingly, the judge ruled in Posada's favor.
Indeed, one could only feel sorry for the government lawyers who were clearly taking dictation from Washington, according to sources for both the defense and prosecution. Often they left the courtroom to call Washington for guidance on the most quotidian of the judge's queries.
In the afternoon, Posada took the stand in his red jumpsuit and the government's lead lawyer, Gina Garrett Jackson, began to question him. The questions did not concern his decades-long paramilitary career, but only what he had or had not told the New York Times. At one point, baited by the prosecution, Posada began to swipe at the Times—disputing his previous admissions and complaining that he had not known the interview was tape recorded, even claiming that he did not understand English. (This last suggestion was especially peculiar as he had been a translator for the U.S. Army.)
During the recess, a government lawyer ambushed me in the ladies room and asked if I did not feel it necessary to take the stand to defend the Times.
To her distress, I said no. I felt that the news stories— and Posada’s testimony—spoke for themselves. In the end I did respond to Posada's flimsy assertions, but outside the courtroom, directly to a lively swarm of reporters.
The next day, when I took my seat in court before the Judge arrived, Posada caught my eye and waved to me. The he held up the copy of my book, Cuba Confidential, that I had given him and said, in a stage whisper, "que bueno."
Later that day, I arranged, through his lawyer, to see him for an interview. But Posada was weary from his court proceedings —and perhaps wary from our last interview. He asked that I write up some questions and said he would promptly get back to me. Here's what he sent:
[This note has been translated: see original spanish.]
|Click here to see a |
PDF of Posada's note.
An affectionate greeting with my best wishes for you and your family. By now I have read 55 pages of your book and I thought it excellent. When I read it completely I will have a better-informed commentary. I hope to soon get out of this problem with the help of God. When I obtain my freedom or maybe after the trial we can have an interview (without the hidden tape-recorder). You can write me here at the Detention Center. May God bless you,
Detention Center of El Paso,
Sept 1, 2005
Questions for Luis Posada, September 1, 2005—El Paso, Texas
1. Who is your hero in the United States?
2. Who is your hero in all of Latin American history?
3. What are the most important historical books for you? Or any novels? Poetry?
This Night of Liberty—Oh Jerusalem! [by Dominique La Pierre & Larry Collins] Topaz [Leon Uris]
4. What is your greatest sadness? Do you have regrets?
Not being able to return to my homeland—No.
5. Do you plan to return to Cuba some day?
If God accompanies me. I will return soon.
6. Thinking over your life, what was the greatest mistake?
I have made many mistakes. I don’t know which has been the greatest.
7. Who was the love of your life?
8. Describe for me Fidel Castro’s mind? Is he a demon? A genius? Both?
His mind is formed by various facets, lies, cruelty, wickedness, like you describe him, a brilliant demon.
9. What is Cuba’s tragedy?
In Cuba there are several tragedies—prisons, executions, economic deterioration, lack of freedom to express oneself, to travel, the ferrymen, political crimes, division of families.
10. What will happen in Cuba when Fidel Castro dies?
When Fidel dies or disappears from the political panorama, chaos will come immediately. Power in Cuba is divided in several spheres. The generals have control over tourism, agriculture (tobacco etc.), importation of reinvestments etc. They support themselves that is to say they sustain Fidel for their personal benefit. If Fidel disappears, his brother Raul will take power briefly, immediately will begin the wars of groups of power. The militants are preparing themselves and conspiring to take power. May God grant that we [exiles] will be able to form a part to establish a provisional system that guarantees free elections, and Cuba like the phoenix will rise from the ashes and a new nation will reappear in all its splendor.
11. What’s your opinion on the war in Iraq? Can we win or is it impossible like Vietnam?
I think that Iraq won’t be like Vietnam. We can win and in fact we are winning.
12. Who are your favorite painters? Cubans? Others?
I don’t have the culture to speak about Cuban painters.
13. Are you optimistic? Do you continue being so?
I am optimistic. I continue being so and always will. I believe in God and in his divine power.
14. What is the future of Latin America? The Left is very strong? What happened?
The future of Latin America must be sustained by a strong democracy of which the moderate left much form a part. Dictators like Castro and crazy extremists like Chavez will disappear.
15. If you could do your life over again, would you do it the same?
16. What is your opinion of Orlando Bosch? Is he a fanatic or a patriot?
A patriot who has given everything for the cause of liberty.
17. Who are your favorite singers?
Maybe Beny Moré.
18. Are you afraid?