Imprisoned Castro foe rejects use of terror
Posada denies he bombed airliner
BY FRANCES ROBLES
PANAMA CITY -- At 73, sick and in jail after decades on the run, alleged would-be Fidel Castro assassin Luis Posada Carriles says this: I renounce terrorism.
In a 17-page, hand-written letter to The Herald from his jail cell in Panama, Posada denied bombing a Cubana de Aviación jetliner that killed 73 people in 1976, absolved the Cuban American National Foundation of responsibility in a string of attacks on the island, and urged Cuba's army to stage its own insurrection to oust Castro -- ``with minimal bloodshed.''
Now jailed for allegedly orchestrating a plot to kill Castro at last year's Ibero-American Summit in Panama, Posada and cellmate Pedro Remón of Miami say they were duped, tricked by a ``clique of henchmen'' who set an elaborate sting to nail Cuba's most wanted fugitive.
``We emphatically declare that we repudiate terrorism as a strategy for struggle,'' Posada said. ``And at the same time vigorously condemn the state terrorism that from the early days became the hallmark of the regime of dictator Fidel Castro.''
Posada is a Bay of Pigs veteran, former CIA operative, and accused bomber of a plane that carried the Cuban national fencing team. Acquitted but still imprisoned, he escaped from a Venezuela prison in 1985 and was in hiding until his arrest in 2000. Over the years, he has been linked to terrorist acts or assassination plots in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Havana and Honduras.
In previous interviews, Posada took responsibility for the 1997 bombings of Havana hotels which killed an Italian tourist and injured about a dozen more. His clandestine life ended November 17, when he and three Miami men -- Remón, Gaspar Jiménez and Guillermo Novo -- were arrested in Panama for allegedly planning to set off bombs and shoot down planes in an attempt to kill their most-hated foe.
Remón, a 57-year-old former truck salesman, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 1986 after pleading guilty to the March 1980 attempted murder of Cuba's former delegate to the United Nations and to an attempted bombing of the Cuban U.N. Mission in December 1979. He was living in a Kendall condo until his arrest eight months ago.
The two wrote responses -- penned by Remón -- to questions from The Herald and sent through Panama City defense attorney Martín Cruz and Miami developer Santiago Alvarez, who is raising money for their defense.
The imprisoned pair ignored some questions, danced around others, and replied to allegations with counter-charges aimed at the Castro government. Asked what acts against Castro he had committed, Posada replied:
``All of us who love God must feel sorrow for the useless sacrifice of innocent lives,'' Posada said. ``Although in the past, in the decade of the sixties -- when we enjoyed the moral and military support of our natural ally to the North -- we freedom- and democracy-loving Cubans were engaged in tactics of action and sabotage that were similar, but did not involve the useless sacrifice of innocents.''
Posada and Remón maintain that their mission at last year's gathering of Latin American presidents was to smuggle out a high-ranking Cuban defector. The defector, they say, turned out to be a decoy.
The men say they were followed by Cuban agents in El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. The Cuban government, they said, clearly knew no murder plot was afoot but wanted to grandstand at the Ibero-American Summit.
``The true object was to turn all this into a propaganda show,'' they said.
The four are now awaiting trial. Posada, who has skin cancer,
complained that prosecutors are unwilling to provide ``cautionary measures''
so he can receive proper
medical treatment. He was hospitalized in February after passing out in his jail cell.
``At the age of 73, you can't expect much from a physically weakened body,'' he said. ``The doctors' diagnoses are not encouraging.''
Prosecutor Argentina Barrera did not return calls seeking comment nor did Cuban diplomats in Panama and Washington, D.C.
Defense attorney Rogelio Cruz said the criminal trial might commence in October. In April, the Panamanian government denied Cuba's extradition requests.
``I think this was a trick of Fidel's to finish Posada off for good,'' Cruz said. ``What evidence is there?''
WHY POSADA LIED
In his letter, Posada swore ``before his country and compatriots'' that he is innocent of the ``abominable deed'' he is most noted for: the downing of the Cubana airliner. He also said he erred in 1998 when he told The New York Times that it was Cuban American National Foundation founder Jorge Mas Canosa who was bankrolling him.
He lied, he said, because reporters had threatened to publish top-secret information that could have compromised members of the U.S. intelligence community.
Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.