Friday, May 20, 2005

Ex-spy bust puts Bush on the spot
Ex-spy bust puts Bush on the spot
Albor Ruiz

Inexplicably, it took weeks for them to move. But finally, on Tuesday, U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents arrested international terrorist Luis Posada Carriles in Miami.

The federal agency had been in denial for two months, the time this dangerous character lived in South Florida after entering the U.S. illegally. All along, the federal agents repeatedly declared that they could not confirm that the Cuban-born former CIA operative had applied for asylum or even that he was in the U.S., even after his lawyer publicly said he was.

But when El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language paper, ran an interview with him on Tuesday that took place in a luxury condominium in Miami, and Carriles himself held an impromptu press conference, the federal agents could not hold back any longer - and moved to arrest him.

"Now, what everybody wants to know is: What will the White House do with Posada Carriles?" said Miami radio talk show host Max Lesnik.

It will not be an easy decision for President Bush, but one that he will have to make no later than today.

"Until now, Posada Carriles is accused only of illegal entry to the U.S.," Lesnik said yesterday, "but according to the law, immigration authorities have 48 hours to decide what the Bush administration will do with this 'hot potato' they have in their hands."

A hot potato indeed.

Along with many other proven terrorist activities, Carriles is the alleged mastermind of the deadly bombing of a Cuban airliner over Barbados in 1976 that killed 73 people.

He was imprisoned for this crime in Venezuela, where he had been a high-ranking government security officer. In 1985, he managed to escape and, until his arrival in Miami two months ago, had lived in several Central American countries.

Now Venezuela, which has an extradition agreement with the U.S., has asked Washington to return Carriles to them so he can be retried for the bombing of the airliner.

Yet few believe he will be extradited - even to Venezuela, not to mention deported to his native Cuba.

Actually, Homeland Security issued a statement a few hours after Carriles' arrest, saying that it does not send people to Communist-ruled Cuba, or to countries believed to be acting in Cuba's name - a clear reference to Venezuela.

So what are the alternatives?

He could be kept detained indefinitely in the U.S., where the only crime he faces is having entered the country illegally, or the U.S. could try to find a third country willing to receive him - maybe El Salvador - although, not surprisingly, no nation has expressed any interest in being saddled with such an unsavory character.

Another option would be to put him on trial in the U.S., although no one thinks this is likely to happen.

For all the rhetoric about the war on terror, Bush has been extremely careful not to cross the most conservative elements of the Cuban-American community, strong backers of his policies and of Carriles.

What is clear is that the Bush administration's decision will be carefully watched by friend and foe, all of them anxious to find out whether Washington means it when it says that harboring a terrorist is equivalent to being a terrorist. Or if those words are - as many people have suspected these past two months - nothing more than another game of political convenience.

They will find out soon enough.