29 August 2005

A Career In Demolitions

The strange tale of Luis Posada Carriles.

His features have thickened and mottled over the years like sunspotted leather. His teeth straight if a little yellow. Hair graying in streaks combed back on a clean part. He's wearing a smart cream suit and a crisp blue shirt and black tortoiseshell glasses. He looks worried and very much his age as he issues categorical denial.

Luis Posada Carriles is one of those hunted and suave men of the world who can claim to have lived most of their lives flitting from shadow to shadow. He's being held in a federal immigration detention center in El Paso, giving testimony in front of a deportation judge as he attempts to avoid extradition to Venezuela. He was arrested in Miami last May after getting into the States with a fake passport through Mexico. Allegedly. He is 77 years old.

Born February 15, 1928 in Cienfuegos, in southern Cuba, he emigrated to Florida in 1961, two years after Castro came to power on the crest of the Movimiento 26 de Julio and overthrew Fulgencio Batista, in the heady days of U.S. anti-communism, when the prospect of a Red island a stone's throw from America's southern shores was new and bright and terrifying.

Shortly thereafter, around about the time of his birthday - and just a week after The Beatles played their first Cavern Club gig, a lunchtime performance - he signed on to return to Cuba, albeit in CIA-issued fatigues onboard the leaking military surplus transports of Brigade 2506, set that year for an amphibious assault at the Bay of Pigs.

As fate would have it, though, the ship to which he was assigned never landed. During a subsequent two year stint in the U.S. military, he was recruited by the CIA and trained in demolitions. In the early 1970s he moved to Venzuela and became a naturalized citizen of the country, where he was run as an CIA asset while rising to a high level in the Venezuelan intelligence service, the DISIP.

Dates and facts now are matters of opinion. There are plans to blow up Soviet ships in the Mexican port of Veracruz, ties to a Miami mafia figure named Lefty Rosenthal, and a heavily-armed conspiracy to overthrow the government of Guatemala interdicted by U.S. Customs, who force Posada and his associates to turn over a cache of weapons, a detailed inventory of which includes but is not limited to: .30 cal. M-1919A4 machine guns; M2A1 flame throwers; .30 cal. M-1 carbines; a Thompson .45 cal. 1928 model submachine gun; a .45 cal. Colt automatic pistol; ten .45 cal. M-3 grease guns; one 3.5" M-20 rocket launcher (bazooka); two 60mm M-5 tripod mortars; fifteen M-1 Garand rifles; one thousand five hundred M-2 30.06 ball linked armor piercing rounds; eighty pounds of C-4; twenty-eight pounds of C-3; twenty-four pounds of TNT; eight pounds of pinolite; two cans, napalm; sixteen 3.5 inch dia. high explosive rockets; forty-four sticks of dynamite; one 12 gauge Winchester semi-auto. shotgun, loaded; and five rolls of orange-wax fuse clover brand.

In '76, two years off CIA payroll, he is overheard at a dinner party by an unnamed Venezualan government official quoted in a Central Intelligence brief: "We are going to hit a Cuban airplane." On October 6th, 1976 a Cubana Airlines plane traveling from Barbados explodes, killing all 73 passengers aboard. A military tribunal acquits him. A commission several years later finds the tribunal inadequate and a trial is slated. In 1985, in jail pending a new trial of the Cubana bombing, he escapes - some allege thanks to a bribe from Jorge Mas Canosa, founder and head of the Cuban-American National Foundation, one of the most powerful lobbyist groups in the United States and a man who amassed a personal fortune in excess of $100 million during the course of political dealings in Florida and the rest of the nation before his death in in the mid-90s.

Now a fugitive, Posada finds work supplying arms to the CIA-backed contras of Southern Nicaragua. Working out of El Salvador under the alias "Ramon Medina," he is second-in-charge of a contra ressuply operation at Ilopango Air Force Base, under his friend and fellow Cuban exile Felix Rodriguez code name Max Gomez, who was among other things the CIA liason with the Bolivian soldiers that captured and executed Che Guevara. More allegations: he ran cocaine imports in addition to guns, supplies, and money.

Nothing can be proven. We see the vaguest of outlines in smoke and darkness. We read James Ellroy's The Cold Six Thousand, with its plausibly deniable and underground history, its links to drugs, the Mafia, the CIA, Latin America, leashed blackbook terrorism, front groups, we find ourselves imagining conspiracy and suddenly less sure of the preposterousness of Ellroy's pulp noir America.

A world of conspiracy attracts because it is a world, however sinister, in which everything happens for a reason. It is a world without accidents. It is a world trembling on the edge of revelation, filled with signs that none of us can ignore.

We know this: He survives an assassination attempt in Guatemala in 1990 that leaves him with a shattered jaw, and helps organize a string of 1997 bombings of Havana luxury hotels, injuring eleven people and killing an Italian businessman. Still hale and keeping active, in 2000 he is convicted in Panama with three others for attempting to assissinate Fidel Castro in Panama with 33 pounds of C-4 explosive. Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso, in the final days of her term in office, suddenly - (allegations: mysteriously) - pardons all four. Three return to the United States. Posada goes to Honduras, dissapears from mention for another five years, and eventually shows up in Miami.

Today, both Cuba and Venezuela demand extradition rights so that he can be tried. U.S. officials, aware that the current administration has vowed to seek out terrorists wherever they are harbored, shuffle their feet embarassedly when Posada's alleged - we must remember that it is alleged - career as a Central American demolitions expert is brought up. A week before Posada's arrest in Miami, Roger Noriega, State Department Assistant Secretary, Buerau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said gamely that Posada might not be in the country and added that the charges against him "may be a completely manufactured issue."

Posada himself - he's been married at least twice. He has one son that we know of, named Jorge. He may be undergoing treatment for skin cancer. He gave a detailed account of his off-the-books life in a 1998 New York Times interview at an undisclosed location in Aruba and now denies it is true and that the interview took place. The Department of Homeland Security judge down in Texas has instructed both lawyers to draw up briefs as to whether or not the Bay of Pigs was a terrorist incident. Posada's lawyers have entered a plea of 'not guilty.'

We are left, after all of the dates and calibres and records have been entered, with sneaking suspicions, the product of our long history with John le Carre novels and the stories related to us by his granddaughter.

Writing them down seems ludicrous. I can only give impressions - ties to the same organized criminals whose operations were used to great effect in our previous Great War of ideology, informal commitments to field agents in Latin America, a deniable termination, a quixotic and fixed personal hatred used from a distance as a convenient tool of public policy, a life lived in the invisible and violent marginalia of history.

It is embarassing, now - what with our new Great War of ideology being against a tactic (though recent cries of Islamofascism seem to be testing a new label) - it embarassing to dwell on this man's career in demolitions, on broken pieces of airliner boiling warm patches of the Caribbean, on blocks of plastic explosive sweating damply in a back room in Panama. It is almost as embarassing as dwelling on the other men, in other places, whose careers in demolitions, sponsored by we the people, have caused so much bother and recrimation.

Luis Posada Carriles, for these reasons and those we cannot even guess at, seems a man destined to be put out of sight and mind.

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