Venezuela asks U.S. to extradite
Cuban over bombing
Luis Posada Carriles, who has Venezuelan citizenship, has applied for asylum in the United States, according to his lawyer, but U.S. officials say they do not know the fugitive's whereabouts.The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington delivered a letter requesting the Bush administration hunt down the 77-year-old, and deport him to face trial for a 1976 airliner bombing that killed 73 people. He was arrested in Venezuela more than 20 years ago but escaped from prison without being convicted.
The case presents U.S. authorities with the dilemma of how to reconcile traditional sympathy for politically influential Cuban exiles with Washington's firm stance against terrorism suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
It is also a source of friction between the United States and the government of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of President Bush and Cuba's closest ally.
State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow told lawmakers the airliner bombing was an act of terrorism and U.S. authorities were gathering evidence about Posada's suspected role to determine how to treat any asylum request.
But U.S. authorities have apparently made no move to detain Posada since his lawyer said a month ago he was in the United States.
That has led to charges of hypocrisy from President Fidel Castro, Chavez and Bush critics in the United States who complain the U.S. president selects who to target in his war on terrorism based on politics.
Wayne Smith, a former chief U.S. diplomat in Havana and longtime critic of Washington's policy toward the island, said the Bush administration wanted to "dance around the issue."
"The only acceptable action here is to expel Mr. Posada Carriles from the United States. We must not harbor terrorists," he told a news conference organized by a leftist, anti-war group, A.N.S.W.E.R..
On the CIA payroll for years, Posada took part in the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and is a hero to many hard-line exile Cubans in Florida who have been a key support base for Bush.
CIA and FBI files show U.S. investigators believed Posada was involved in the plot and Posada himself told the New York Times seven years ago he was behind bombings in Havana that killed an Italian and wounded others.
A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, acknowledged the case involved awkward political elements for the Bush administration but said it would be handled as a strictly legal matter.
"This case has it all -- Cuban-American issues, U.S.-Cuban bilateral issues, U.S.-Venezuelan issues as well as the issue of our commitment to fight terrorism no matter who is involved," he said.
In judging whether to extradite Posada to Venezuela, U.S. authorities would weigh whether he would be handed over to Cuba, where the United States doubts defendants can receive fair trials, he said.
The top Venezuelan and Cuban diplomats in Washington reaffirmed on Friday the countries wanted to see Posada face justice in Venezuela -- not in Cuba.