Luis Posada Carriles, the most notorious and wanted terrorist in the Western Hemisphere – but one few Americans have ever heard of – has died a free man in Miami at age 90.
The Miami Herald reports Posada Carriles died peacefully in his sleep in a Hollywood, Florida hospital early on May 23 following a lengthy battle with throat cancer.
At the time of his death, Posada Carriles, a staunchly militant anti-Castro Cuban exile and former longtime CIA agent, was wanted by authorities in Cuba and Venezuela for his leading role in masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner over the Caribbean, an attack that killed 73 innocent people. He is also wanted for orchestrating a string of terror attacks on Cuban hotels and for repeatedly plotting to assassinate the late Cuban president Fidel Castro.
Posada Carriles and Castro were actually acquaintances during their pre-revolution college years at the University of Havana. Both equally despised the brutal US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. However, after Castro’s revolution overthrew the Batista regime Posada Carriles was briefly jailed before fleeing his homeland for Argentina, then the United States.
When the John F. Kennedy administration decided to wage covert warfare against Castro’s Cuba, Posada Carriles was one of the young CIA-trained exiles who planned the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Following that colossal embarrassment, he received explosives and sabotage training at Ft. Benning, Georgia during a period of rising US support for anti-Castro terrorism, crimes which included a rocket attack on the United Nations in a failed bid to assassinate Che Guevara.
The CIA set up a station at University of Miami, where agents plotted to kill or overthrow Castro and where operatives planned and launched countless terror and sabotage missions. Militantly anti-communist exile groups trained and operated throughout South Florida, with secret camps popping up in the Everglades. In the 1970s, a wave of bombings, assassinations and other attacks on pro-Castro exiles in South Florida and far beyond earned Miami the FBI nickname of America’s "terrorist capital."
Posada Carriles would later boast that "the CIA taught us everything… they taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in sabotage."
He would put all of those deadly skills to use while planning, along with fellow anti-Castro exile Orlando Bosch, the brazen broad daylight car bombing assassination of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC on September 21, 1976. Letelier’s newlywed American aide, Ronni Moffit, was also killed in the attack.
The following month, Posada Carriles and Bosch planned the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, which killed 73 civilians including Cuba’s junior Olympic fencing team. It was the worst act of airborne terrorism in the Western Hemisphere until the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The CIA, under its new director George H. W. Bush, knew as early as June 1976 that Cuban exiles were plotting to blow up a Cubana airliner, but did nothing.
Police in Barbados arrested two Venezuelan operatives in connection with the bombing of Flight 455. They confessed and implicated Posada Carriles and Bosch as planners of the attack. The Cubans were arrested, tried and acquitted in a military court but civil authorities planned to retry them and they remained behind bars. Although they were acquitted in 1987, secret US government documents have since proven the US knew Posada Carriles and Bosch were behind the bombing.
Posada Carriles didn’t wait around to learn his fate. He escaped from prison in 1985 and made his way to El Salvador where, under the alias Ramon Medina, he worked for Col. Oliver North on the Reagan administration’s illegal arming of the terrorist Contra army in Nicaragua.
In the late 1990s, Posada Carriles was behind a string of hotel bombings in Cuba, including one in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. He later explained that his goal was to cripple the socialist economy’s burgeoning tourism industry to deprive the Castro regime of desperately needed hard currency. Posada Carriles boasted that he "slept like a baby" after the bombings and brushed off their grisly results. "That Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
Over 40 bombings in Honduras were also attributed to Posada Carriles during the 1990s. In 2000, Cuban intelligence agents foiled a plot by him and others to bomb a Panamanian university during a visit by Fidel Castro. Posada Carriles was convicted and jailed. However, then-Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso, a close ally of the George W. Bush administration, pardoned the terrorist before leaving office. Panama’s Supreme Court later overturned what it ruled an unconstitutional pardon.
Posada Carriles illegally entered the United States in 2005, returning to a hero’s welcome in Miami, a city that once celebrated Orlando Bosch Day to honor his co-conspirator. He sought asylum but was instead arrested for entering the country illegally. Although the Justice Department called him "an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks," a federal judge recommended that he be released.
Incredibly, he was freed. Posada Carriles settled in Miami, where he found work as an artist. He also made frequent radio and television appearances, and once sat in the front row with Orlando Bosch at a speech by President George W. Bush, whose family is closely connected with some of the most notorious anti-Castro terrorists.
In April 2011, Posada Carriles was acquitted of immigration-related charges in a Texas court. Although he was accused of lying about his role in the deadly 1997 Cuba hotel bombing, he was never indicted for that or any other attack, even after his confessions. Critics blasted the United States for fighting a global war on terrorism, replete with threats and worse to attack countries that aid and abet terrorists, while harboring the hemisphere’s most wanted terrorists – and many others like them.
While many of Miami’s Cuban exiles, especially the older ones, are mourning Posada Carriles’ passing, his death was greeted with cheers throughout Cuba and much of Latin America. The Miami-based exile radio station La Poderosa hailed him as "a leader of liberty and justice… a man of real dignity," while Cuban state media lamented that the "bin Laden of the West" died "without paying his debts to justice."
One man’s terrorist may very well be another’s freedom fighter, but Luis Posada Carrile’s fight for "freedom" – which often included doing dirty, deadly work for some of the world’s worst human rights violators – claimed the lives of too many innocent men, women and children to be called anything but terrorism.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and journalist, as well as editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. His work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com.