For them, Posada's a terrorist
HAVANA · They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That maddening thought haunts Giustino Di Celmo and Carlos Cremata, two men bound by the deaths of their loved ones in separate acts of terrorism linked to the controversial anti-Castro exile who is seeking asylum in Florida.
Cremata's father, an air-traffic control worker, was not supposed to be aboard Cubana Airlines flight 455 the day it exploded over Barbados in 1976 killing him and 72 others. Carlos Cremata Sr. had offered to work a friend's shift and never came home. Only his keys and ID card were recovered.
Twenty-one years later, Di Celmo's son, an Italian businessman, happened to be having lunch with friends at Havana's Copacabana hotel when an explosion sent a shard of shrapnel into his neck, making him the only casualty in about a dozen 1997 hotel and restaurant bombings here.
Both men blame Luis Posada Carriles, 77, a longtime suspect in the airliner bombing. He was twice acquitted of that crime in a Venezuelan courtroom, but escaped in 1985 while prosecutors appealed the case. He admitted he plotted the Havana hotel bombings in an interview with The New York Times in 1998, though he later retracted his statements.
Cremata and Di Celmo compare Posada to Osama bin Laden and are outraged that he apparently sneaked into Florida six weeks ago and is seeking political asylum even as the Bush administration wages its war on terror.
"I've often thought of my father's final moments of anguish on that plane. It must have been the same as what those people went through in the [twin] towers," Cremata, 45, said. "He went to work as he did every day. The way the employees of the World Trade Center went to work on Sept. 11. It's exactly the same."
What is worse, Cremata said, is that the U.S. government has remained mostly silent on Posada's asylum application and seems not to know where he is.
"I've spent my lifetime asking myself why. Why my father?" Cremata said. "The fact they [the U.S. government] have been silent about such a delicate situation is ... very hard. It's absolutely inadmissible to decency, to justice, to transparency."
Di Celmo, who moved from Italy to Havana after his son Fabio's death, said he has committed himself fully to helping Cuba fight terrorism.
"I'm not leaving Cuba. I want to be near Fabio. I see him everyday on the streets of Havana, in the football field. I am dedicated to the fight against terrorism," said Di Celmo, 85, a staunch defender of Cuba's socialist system. "When I lost my son I swore I would stay here to struggle."
While U.S. government officials are tight lipped, Cuban authorities have gone into high gear for what could be President Fidel Castro's most compelling propaganda campaign since the Elián González debacle. In about 16 televised addresses over the past month Castro has pored over Posada's past and denounced the U.S. government for not arresting him and extraditing him to Venezuela where he is wanted in connection with the airliner bombing.
A massive protest march in front of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana is scheduled for Tuesday.
"There's no question, this is the perfect opportunity for Fidel to mobilize and point to both the U.S. [government] and the exile community, not just as enemies of the revolution, but as enemies of Cuba," said William LeoGrande, dean of the school of public affairs at American University and an expert on Cuba.
Like the Elián custody battle, ordinary Cubans can identify with the victims of the airliner and hotel bombings, LeoGrande said.
"For any ordinary Cuban family, Elián could have been their son," LeoGrande said. "In this case, the people who were on that airliner could have been their families."
Posada's lawyer could not be reached for comment on Friday. His friend and benefactor, Santiago Alvarez, denied that Posada had any role in the airliner bombing and said the informant cited in the declassified documents lied to protect himself.
"If I ever thought he was guilty in that horrendous crime I would not be representing him," Alvarez said in a phone conversation from Miami. However, he said that his longtime friend does support toppling Castro by force.
"There's a very thin line between war and terrorism," Alvarez said. "Definitely he [Posada] has been a violent anti-Castro freedom fighter. I believe the only way to fight a violent dictatorship like the one existing in Cuba today is [with] violence."
To Di Celmo, Posada is no freedom fighter, but a terrorist.
"One terrorist is the same as another," Di Celmo said. "They have no soul."
Vanessa Bauzá can be reached at email@example.com
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