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CIA terrorist on trial

By Andre Bagoo Sunday, February 6 2011

AT A COURTROOM at El Paso, Texas, the trial of an ex-CIA agent last month commenced. Luis Posada Carriles, 82, who once escaped from a prison in Venezuela disguised as a priest and who allegedly conspired to blow-up an airplane off the coast of Barbados using a tube of toothpaste, faces several charges.

Though wanted for a series of anti-Castro terrorist attacks in several countries, including an attack on the Guyana Consulate in downtown Port-of-Spain and the Barbados offices of BWIA in 1976, Posada faces charges not related to terrorism, but rather perjury.

Before US District Court Judge Katheleen Cardone, US prosecutors hope to convince a jury that Posada, also known as “Bambi” and “Solo”, lied to an immigration judge when he denied ever being involved in certain terrorist attacks. He also faces several charges of immigration fraud and obstruction of a proceeding, stemming from lies he is accused of telling United States officials about how he entered that country in March 2005 after decades spent in exile.

Although the case is unlikely to shed light on the bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 which killed 73 as well as the attacks on Trinidad and Barbados (the charges focus on the most recent attacks orchestrated by Posada in Havana in 1997), the evidence of Trinidad and Tobago police buttresses the case against Posada who, to date, has escaped sanction for the 1976 attacks.

For years, Cuba and Venezuela have been clamouring for Posada’s head. In Venezuela, he remains wanted for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 that crashed off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976, killing all 73 people onboard. The plane, en route to Havana from Caracas had stopped in Guyana and Trinidad before meeting its demise off the coast of Barbados with the Cuban Olympic fencing team and several students onboard.

Though Posada, who will this month celebrate his 83rd birthday, was never convicted, he was imprisoned for nine years in Caracas on charges of conspiring with the bombers. But in a development that reads like something from a spy novel, he escaped by bribing a warden and walking out of prison disguised as a priest.

Two men, Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo, who both worked for Posada, were arrested in 1976 in downtown Port-of-Spain hours after the attack on Flight 455 and later confessed to Assistant Commissioner of Police Dennis Ramdwar that they were responsible. An aspect of their confessions, not reported in newspapers at the time, is that they claimed to be CIA agents and also had a “terror list” of targets which had an entire section in relation to Trinidad and Tobago.

The handwritten target scouting report, prepared by Ricardo, was released by the US National Security Archive in 2007. It contains a report on businesses, embassies and offices with ties to Cuba and provided detailed descriptions of targets in Barbados, Colombia, Panama and Trinidad, right down to the make, model, colour and licence plates of the cars of Cuban officials in these countries.

Under the heading “Trinidad” the targets included the offices of what was then known as BWIA (now Caribbean Airlines) located at Sunjet House on Edward Street, Port-of-Spain.

“In the case of Trinidad, the link to Castro is reflected and represented in only two points,” the note reads in translation. “1- The representation of Cubana Air is done by the BWIA, located at Sunjet House, 20 Edward Street and at the airport. In Trinidad, the flights of the DC8 of Cubana Aviation (the flights CU 454 and CU453) make stopovers every Wednesday on the way to Guyana or coming from Barbados.

“2-The Consulate of Guyana in Trinidad is located between Richmond Street and Park Street at No 61. Said consulate is in charge of helping to administer whatever kind of help or problem that pro-Castro Cubans have in Trinidad.”

On September 1, 1976, days before that year’s General Election, the Guyana Consulate in Port-of-Spain was bombed. An explosive device — said to have been placed in a paper bag on the upper floor of the two-storey structure — was spotted moments before an explosion ripped a six-foot hole into the upper floor of the building, shattering glass and making a sickening explosive noise for miles around. Three persons were injured. The consular representative at the time was not in the building.

A few weeks before, on July 14, 1976, the BWIA offices at Bridgetown Barbados — also on the target list but under the heading “Barbados” — had been attacked. Then came the downing of Flight 455 on October 6, 1976, moments after it left Piarco en route via Barbados to Havana at 11am that morning. All three events have been tied to Posada.

Although the BWIA offices in Port-of-Spain were not attacked at the time, the target list makes it clear that it was a potential target by the Cuban terrorists, said to be anti-Castro in their political views.

Posada denied involvement of the bombing of Flight 455. But he was implicated by his employees after interrogation by then ACP Dennis Ramdwar in 1976 as well as in CIA reports. The men, Ricardo and Lugo, had been arrested by the then ACP Randolph Burroughs (later the Police Commissioner) at what was then called the Holiday Inn in Port-of-Spain. Burroughs reportedly disguised himself as a porter at the hotel.

Ramdwar’s police report of his interview of the two men is a startling account of the events that unfolded behind closed doors of Police Headquarters in downtown Port-of-Spain days after the bombing of Flight 455.

The document, dated October 26, 1976, was also released by the US National Security Archives in 2007.

“I am a Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service,” Ramdwar begins. “On Thursday October 7, 1976, two men were brought to Police Headquarters by ACP Burroughs and a party of police officers.

“I informed (them) that I was in charge of the enquiries regarding the crash of Cubana Aircraft Flight CU-455,” Ramdwar, then an officer with extensive training and pedigree, said.

The men were Ricardo and Lugo. Both had travelled on Flight 455 and got off on Barbados before returning to Trinidad. They, however, left a suitcase which contained a tube of toothpaste, containing explosive material, behind. Ramdwar interviewed the men several times and even made a trip to Venezuela on October 11, 1976, in the middle of the process to make checks on their passports. Ricardo had carried a stolen passport and had been called “Jose Garcia” before Ramdwar discovered that he was masquerading under a false identity.

By 5.15pm on October 15, 1976, the men began to wear down. Lugo requested to see Ramdwar and, according to the then ACP’s report, Lugo said that “Ricardo told him on the flight between Caracas and Trinidad that Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada must be worried about him.”

On the flight, Lugo said, “Ricardo became very nervous, was sweating, went to the bathroom, returned to the bathroom even more nervous and sweating.”

The next day, Saturday, Lugo again requested to talk with Ramdwar. He told Ramdwar he was convinced that Ricardo was the one who placed the bomb on the aircraft and had, in a taxi from Piarco to the Holiday Inn said “with great determination that he was going to blow up a Cubana aircraft”.

By Sunday, it was Ricardo’s turn to talk. He asked to speak to Ramdwar privately. Alone with the ACP he said, according to the report, “that he was a member of the CIA; that he was recruited by the CIA in Venezuela between 1970 and 1971; that he was trained in Venezuela and Panama in counter-intelligence”. He also said that the group “El Condor” that claimed responsibility for the bombing was a front for another group called “El Corou”, led by Bosch.

He also said that Posada was the head of a private firm known as Industrial and Commercial Investigations Agency and that Posada was his boss. Ricardo confessed, reportedly, that both Lugo and Ricardo were in Barbados when the BWIA offices were attacked weeks earlier.

Ricardo said he stayed at the Trinidad Hilton days before the bombing of the Guyana Consulate in Port-of-Spain.

“The bomb was placed there by a Panamanian who is a naturalised Venezuelan and who now resides in Barbados,” Ricardo said. Of the Port-of-Spain bombing, he said, “the bomb which was placed in the Guyanese Consulate in Trinidad was placed at 10am on September 1, 1976, by one Oleg Rodriguez de la Sierra Trataikoff and another member of” an organisation with links to Posada.

Ramdwar, 83 and now retired, this week declined to be interviewed. However he did have one thing to say of his role in the saga: “I was simply doing my job”.

The case against Posada, which will continue over the coming weeks, is expected to focus on more recent developments and his claim that he had nothing to do with terrorist attacks in Havana 1997. Posada has denied involvement of the bombing of Flight 455, but declassified FBI documents from 1976 place him at two meetings in Santo Domingo in which the bombing of the airliner was planned.

Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles was born in Cuba on February 15, 1928, and later lived in Venezuela. Posada has worked for and has been linked to the CIA right up to 1993, according to de-classified CIA documents. He has been convicted in absentia of involvement in various terrorist attacks in addition to plots in the Americas, including: admitted involvement in a string of bombings in 1997 targeting fashionable Cuban hotels and nightspots; involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion; involvement in the Iran-Contra affair; and, according to some theorists, involvement in the assassination of John F Kennedy.

In addition, he was jailed under accusations related to an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000, although he was later controversially pardoned by Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso in the final days of her term.

In 2005, Posada was held by US authorities in Texas on the charge of illegal presence on national territory before the charges were dismissed on May 8, 2007. On September 28, 2005 a US immigration judge ruled that Posada could not be deported, finding that he faces the threat of torture in Venezuela. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro has referred to him as “the Bin Laden of the Americas;” the reluctance of the United States to extradite him, has been repeatedly criticized.

However in a move that has been compared to the trial of gangster Al Capone on technical charges, US authorities hope to have a jury finally convict Posada.

On Friday the case continued, at the US District Court in El Paso. The judge delivered a key ruling in relation to one of the charges of false documentation.

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