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martes, mayo 24, 2005

Demonstrators outside U.S. embassy demand terrorist's extradition

Upon logging on yesterday afternoon, I discovered the following message from the U.S. embassy:

At 12:00 p.m. on 23 May 2005 a group of demonstrators were located outside of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. The U.S. Embassy will be closed to all incoming and outgoing traffic until the demonstration is over. American citizens should avoid all demonstrations and areas where groups are gathering. American citizens should monitor local media sources for new developments.

What’s that about? Well, as you may have heard, confessed terrorist Luis Posada Carriles has been living the good life in the United States for two months, and on April 12th applied for asylum. After he cheekily invited Miami Herald reporters to interview him (which they did, in an article that made the front page), the immigration authorities finally got up off their butts and brought him in – on immigration violations, not criminal charges.

Venezuela has formally requested his extradition so he can be tried for his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 as it took off from Caracas, killing 73 people.

I say “alleged” because Posada denies involvement in this particular plot, though the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. But he has bragged about numerous other terrorist activities, including the bombing of multiple tourist spots in Cuba in 1997, killing an Italian tourist. Up until August 2004, he was in prison in Panama for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro during a summit held in that country. He’s also alleged to have participated in numerous other anti-Cuba bombings, the assassination of Chilean human rights activist Orlando Letelier in 1970, and the murder of Cuban diplomat Felix Garcia. He participated in the failed 1962 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, and in his autobiography he describes some of his later work for the CIA, including helping Oliver North supported the Contras in Nicaragua.

Despite the Bush administration’s constant harping on the so-called “War on Terror”, and Bush’s strident insistence that any nation who harbors a terrorist is itself terrorist, the U.S. has thus far not indicated that it will grant Venezuela’s extradition request, despite a long-standing extradition treaty between the two nations. Why? Because Posada’s terrorist actions have been directed against the government of Cuba, which the U.S. has long tried to overthrow. And because the U.S is threatened by Venezuela’s rejection of neoliberal economics and Northern hegemony, as well as its close relationship with Cuba, and has been feverishly trying to “isolate” Venezuela from its Latin American neighbors, albeit with little success thus far.

So, Posada has an immigration hearing scheduled for June 13th in El Paso. He apparently plans to petition for asylum again. Though no decisions have yet been made, U.S. authorities, particularly ICE (the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement), have made statements hinting that they are opposed to extraditing Posada to Venezuela to be tried for the plane bombing.

The Venezuelan government has made this into the leading issue of the day, with Chávez saying Venezuela may have to reconsider diplomatic relations with the U.S. if the extradition treaty is not honored. The demonstration at the U.S. embassy was the latest in a series of popular protests in Venezuela demanding that Posada be returned to face trial.

From a description in the English-language Daily Journal, the protest wasn’t nearly as threatening as the Embassy’s terse warning made it appear. Me, I’m impressed that anyone made the trip. A few years ago (i.e., pre-Chávez), the embassy was in the heart of the city, easily accessible. They’ve since moved to the top of a high hill some distance away from anything else, building a complex whose resemblance to a fortress is unmistakable. I had to go there last month to apply for a replacement passport, and it’s quite a trip.

According to the Daily Journal, a delegation of about 100 people led by National Assembly member Darío Vivias arrived at the Embassy to present a petition demanding Posada’s extradition. After some chanting of slogans by the crowd, Vivias read the petition (broadcast over a loudspeaker) to the Embassy’s representative, demanding and receiving his signature on the document (which I think just signified that he’d received it). Basically a symbolic act aimed at getting the message across to U.S. authorities.

A few U.S. legislators apparently got it: a group of twenty Congressional Democrats, led by Dennis Kucinich, are criticizing officials’ equivocation and have send Bush a letter calling for Posada’s extradition. As expressed by Rep. José Serrano of New York: "Here's a guy who has admitted to committing terrorist attacks, who escaped justice by bribing his guards and hightailing it out of prison, and we're not willing to extradite him to face justice? How can we with any credibility ask other nations to help us out with our global struggle against terror when we won't cooperate with other nations' anti-terror proceedings?"

Apparently it’s perfectly alright to bomb civilian airplanes and kill innocent people if you’re doing it to further U.S. foreign policy goals. Unfortunately, this hypocrisy from the U.S. is nothing new; our government has always been amenable to killing civilians and undermining democracy when it suits its ends. Even if the U.S. allows common sense to override political posturing and extradites Posada to Venezuela, it won’t signal any real change in the politics of expediency.

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