A terrorist lives in Miami. He is not in hiding, or part of some sleeper cell. He’s an escaped convict, wanted internationally for blowing up a jetliner. His name is Luis Posada Carriles. As the nation was focused on the Virginia Tech shooting, the Bush administration quietly allowed Posada’s release from a federal immigration detention center.
It was Oct. 6, 1976, a clear day in the Caribbean. Cubana Airlines Flight 455 departed from Barbados, bound for Cuba, with a stop in Trinidad. Posada then ran a private investigative firm in Venezuela. Two of his employees were on the flight, deplaned in Trinidad and left C-4 plastic explosive on board, disguised as a tube of toothpaste. Shortly after takeoff, the bomb exploded and the plane went down. All 73 people on board were killed.
Among them were six young Guyanese students on their way to Cuba to study medicine. Now an American citizen, Roseanne Nenninger, sister of Raymond Persaud, one of those students, was 11 years old when her brother was killed: “We had a huge farewell party for our brother and everyone came, the family members, everyone from the local community, all his friends, school friends, so it was a great day for all of us. And the next day, we all went to the airport. He was dressed in his brown suit that was made by a tailor especially for him getting on a plane. It was his first time on an airplane. We watched him walk on the tarmac and head onto the airplane. And it was a great moment for all of us.”
Within hours, he was dead. He was just one of the victims, one of 73. There was also the entire Cuban Olympic fencing team, young athletes. Each with a name, each with a story. The Cubana Airlines bombing remains to this day the only midair bombing of a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere. Posada was tried and convicted in Venezuela of organizing the bombing. He was imprisoned, then escaped in 1985.
Posada, who will be 80 next year, is a Cuban-born Venezuelan national. He has been a violent opponent of Fidel Castro since the early 1960s. Declassified CIA and FBI documents reveal the extent of Posada’s violent career. Through the decades he hopscotched around Latin America, smuggling arms, running drugs, plotting coups, working with Augusto Pinochet’s dreaded secret police, assisting with Oliver North’s illegal Contra war against Nicaragua—the list goes on. He was a paid CIA “asset,” and also served in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of second lieutenant, at Fort Benning, Ga. He has been implicated in the bombing of hotels in Havana. He was caught and convicted of attempting to assassinate Castro in Panama.
Thanks to the Federation of American Scientists’ Government Secrecy Project and the private, nonprofit National Security Archive at George Washington University, the public can read for itself the declassified documents. These documents show what it means for U.S. intelligence agencies to work with “unsavory” characters. Endeavors like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba of 1961 and the failed Iran-Contra program need operatives, and so the U.S. government hires violent criminals and overlooks their conduct, as long as the policy objectives are being pursued.
And so it is ironic that on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, following the mass slaughter on the Virginia Tech campus, the U.S. government quietly released this convicted terrorist and mass murderer.