Arrested exile is public enemy No. 1 in Cuba

HAVANA (AP) - An elderly Cuban exile arrested in Panama after Fidel Castro accused the man of plotting to assassinate him during a summit there is well known to the 11 million people living on this communist island.

For decades, state-run media has linked the name of Luis Posada Carriles with violence, terror and death, to the point that in Cubans' eyes he has become a virtual Public Enemy No. 1.

''Viva Panama, the land where the most famous criminal in all the hemisphere has been captured!'' Castro proclaimed after Panamanian authorities arrested his old nemesis on Friday, the day the Cuban leader arrived for the summit.

Cuba has formally requested Posada Carriles' extradition to the island, where he was tried and convicted en absentia for terrorism and would most certainly face death by firing squad.

Cubans first heard of the longtime anti-communist activist in October 1976 after an explosion sent a Cuban jetliner plummeting into the sea off Barbados. Members of the national fencing team, heading home after winning a tournament in Caracas, were among 73 people killed.

Cuba's government from the start blamed the tragedy on Posada Carriles, who has always denied involvement in the attack.

Although a mere footnote in American history, the jetliner bombing was a decisive moment in Cuban history that set off an outpouring of national grief akin to that seen in the United States after President Kennedy's assassination.

Many Cubans vividly remember weeping as they walked to the Plaza of the Revolution with hundreds of thousands of other compatriots several days later to remember the victims.

''When an energetic and virile people weep, injustice trembles!'' Castro told the masses. His declaration, according to those who were there, was followed by a long, chilling silence.

''My blood still boils, and I will always remember the painful silence'' of that day, Cuban journalist Orlando Oramas Leon wrote in an article published Tuesday in the official Granma newspaper. ''The relatives, friends, and neighbors of the victims of these atrocious crimes have the right to have the criminals judged.''

Posada Carriles left his native Cuba shortly after the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power. He is now 72 - two years younger than Castro.

By the early 1960s, Posada Carriles had launched his lifelong battle against Castro and communism. He trained alongside other exiles for the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, although his group never reached the beach.

Posada Carriles arrived in Venezuela in 1967 to work in that nation's intelligence service. In the early 1970s, he was designated chief of police operations.

Shortly after former President Carlos Andres Perez took office in 1976, he decided to try Posada Carriles for the jetliner boming.

''In order to avoid him going to Cuba we demanded to try him in Venezuela,'' Andres Perez told The Associated Press. ''... We had to stop at all costs that prisoners were sent to Cuba because that was to send them before the firing squad.''

To send Posada Carriles to Cuba for trial now would also be ''a death sentence,'' said the former Venezuelan president, who opposes such a move.

Posada Carriles spent nine years in prison in Venezuela during several trials for the jetliner bombing. He was acquitted twice and escaped from custody in 1985 while awaiting retrial.

In the 1980s, Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government accused Posada Carriles of working with the CIA to run guns for the Contra rebels.

More recently, Posada Carriles admitted to masterminding about a dozen bombings of Havana tourist locales in 1997, including one that killed a young Italian tourist.

Posada Carriles was arrested Friday after Castro arrived in Panama for a regional summit and announced that old enemy was in town and planning to kill him. Posada Carriles was arrested hours later.

Castro's government claimed Monday that Panamanian authorities had seized a cache of plastic C-4 explosives linked to the men, along with a map of the University of Panama, where the Cuban leader spoke. Panamanian newspapers on Tuesday reported a similar seizure, although police refused to confirm the report.

Also arrested were several Cuban-Americans associated with violent anti-communist groups - including the defunct Omega 7, a secretive brotherhood of Cuban emigres that claimed responsibility for an array of bombings and killings in the United States between 1975 and 1983. The group was broken up in the mid-1980s.

They included Guillermo Novo of Miami, 61 - once identified as an Omega 7 member - who was acquitted in the 1976 car-bomb assassination of a former Chilean diplomat in Washington who criticized his country's right-wing military government.

Also detained was Pedro Remon, 56, also of Miami. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for the botched 1980 attempt to murder Raul Roa-Kouri, then Cuba's U.N. ambassador. Another man arrested in Panama was identified by a U.S. passport as Manuel Diaz. The Cuban government says he is Gaspar Jimenez, a Cuban emigre convicted in Mexico for the 1976 attempt to kidnap Cuba's consul to the southeast Mexican city Merida.

During Castro's address at Panama University, his calls for prosecution of the Cuban exiles were interrupted repeatedly with a chilling chant.

''To the wall!'' leftist Panamanian students shouted, referring to the firing squads used after the triumph of the Cuban revolution. ''To the wall!''


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