One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter


If you fire a rocket at a foreign ship with the aim of sinking it, and serve time for your crime, does that make you a terrorist? Not really.

What if you conspire to murder a diplomat in a foreign country and, in the process, also kill one of that country’s citizens? Surely you would have to qualify as a terrorist? Wrong again.

Okay, okay. How about if you’re convicted of blowing up an aircraft, killing everyone on board, and you also admit to involvement in the bombing of restaurants. These crimes must undoubtedly make you a bona fide, fully certified terrorist? Nup – three strikes and you’re out.

Thanks to Hive

Thanks to Hive

As far as the Bush administration is concerned, not only are you free of the terrorist taint, but you are, quite possibly, a hero – especially if your enemy is Cuban strongman Fidel Castro or your boss was the homicidal Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. That gives you licence to maim and murder, because the Bush family does not oppose terrorism if it serves right-wing extremism, be it in Central and South America or apartheid South Africa.

The US is currently sheltering a well-known Latin American terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, whom The Washington Post reports was on a State Department ‘watch list’ when he entered the US earlier this year.

In 1976, a court in Venezuela convicted Posada of blowing up a Cubana Airlines jet, killing seventy three passengers, including members of Cuba’s national fencing team. Nine years later, Posada’s sympathisers in Miami – the bolt-hole for much of Central America’s far right – raised $US28 000 to bribe a prison guard in Caracas to spring him. He found sanctuary in El Salvador during the regime of the Reagan-backed, nun-raping, Jesuit-massacring death squads. By the late nineties, he was in the news again, admitting to a series of restaurant bombings in Havana, and last year he was in the slammer again, after a court in Panama convicted him of plotting to assassinate Castro during a state visit.

Panama’s president Mireya Moscoso, a US supplicant, pardoned Posada and three co-conspirators, reportedly under pressure from George W. Bush, who was attempting to consolidate the Cuban-American vote in Florida for himself and his far-right senate candidate, Mel Martinez. Apparently this sort of thing goes down well among wealthy Cubans who resent having their vast landholdings – which were often stolen from the indigenous population several generations earlier – appropriated by Castro for national development. It goes without saying that the Cuban expats of Florida are not an especially nice group.

Posada, a convicted mass murderer who would have been executed in the US as fast as a mentally retarded teenage killer, has now turned up in Florida demanding political asylum. According to Robert Parry, the celebrated former Newsweek journalist who documented George Bush Sr’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, the US is nervous about granting Posada asylum. But the administration is reluctant to deport him to Venezuela, or any other country that might prosecute him for terrorism. Like, hello! Don’t they get the irony?

If he manages to stay in America, Posada will have no shortage of like-minded company. One of his co-accused in the plot against Castro was Guillermo Novo Sampol, who already had a rap sheet in the US, with a conviction for conspiracy in the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier.

Letelier had been Chilean ambassador to Washington under Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. In 1973, CIA-backed forces overthrew and then murdered Allende in favour of Pinochet. Letelier was continuing the struggle abroad for democracy at home with the help of a brave young American, Ronnie Moffat. The pair were killed when their car exploded near Dupont Circle, just a few blocks from the White House.

In 1981, a court overturned Novo’s conviction – while making it clear that it was on ‘a technicality’ – and the Reagan administration’s Justice Department conveniently lost interest in prosecuting the crime again. Novo was free to roam and in Florida, working for the Cuban American National Foundation, he later linked up with the third member of the Latin terrorist troika – Orlando Bosch.

The same Venezuelan court that convicted Posada in the Cubana airlines explosion indicted Bosch, who served eleven years in jail. After his release in 1987, he fled to the US. Even Reagan’s arch-conservative attorney-general, Dick Thornburgh, was aware of Bosch’s thirty documented acts of terror, including a 1968 bazooka attack on a Polish cargo ship in Miami, for which he was sentenced to ten years, although he won parole in 1972. (There are also theories – strong enough to be explored by the US House of Representatives Committee on Assassinations – that Bosch was in Dallas the day John F. Kennedy was murdered, although these byways unnecessarily clutter the already strong case against Bosch.)

Thornburgh was sufficiently appalled to denounce Bosch as ‘an unreformed terrorist’ and tried to deport him. But who should intervene on his behalf? Why, it was one Jeb Bush, Dubya’s brother and the second idiot son of the then Vice President. When Papa Bush succeeded Reagan, he pardoned Bosch and two years later granted him permanent residency.

Now remember, this is a country – or, more specifically, a family – that recently refused a working visa for Dora Maria Tellez, a distinguished medical doctor who served as health minister in the democratically elected leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Harvard University had offered Dr Tellez the Robert F. Kennedy Chair in Latin American Studies, no less, but the Bush Administration has decreed that this woman, who has never killed a living soul, was involved in ‘terrorist activities’. Go figure.

Still, it should surprise no one how selective these far-right Republicans are in their attitude to human rights. During the 1980s, the State Department listed one Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. A few short years later, South Africa’s democratic liberator was – appropriately – being feted at Buckingham Palace and welcomed at the White House, although that was during Bill Clinton’s tragic, contradictory presidency.

Latin American specialist Ann Louise Bardach summed up the hypocrisy of George W. Bush and his attitude to terrorism in a recent Washington Post essay. ‘In any other American city,’ she wrote, ‘Posada might have been met by a SWAT team, arrested and deported. But in the peculiar ecosystem of Miami, where hardline anti-Castro politicians control both the radio stations and the ballot boxes, the definition of terrorism is a pliable one: One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.’

Even more breathtaking, she pointed out, was the argument that Posada’s lawyer made over his client’s role in the Havana restaurant bombings: Posada ‘could not be held responsible for innocent victims unless it could be proven that those victims were, in fact, targets.’

Targets? Just like the 2,900 innocents – the cops, firefighters, janitors and delivery boys – at the World Trade Centre. If Osama bin Laden is ever captured, I can just see his lawyers priming his case.

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