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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2005

Expel Cuban exile

THE case of the Cuban exile recently arrested by federal immigration authorities in Miami defines "sticky wicket" for the Bush Administration. Luis Posada Carriles has been charged with entering the country illegally.

But whatever happens to the Cuban militant, who is being held without bail pending an immigration hearing in June, the outcome of the case will hold significant ramifications for the White House both internationally and among politically supportive Cuban-Americans.

If the administration hopes to maintain any credibility in the international community with its zero tolerance for those who would harbor suspected terrorists, the 77-year-old Cuban, believed involved in a Cuban airliner bombing in 1976 and other attacks since then, should be extradited to Venezuela for possible retrial in the plane bombing.

That catastrophe killed 73 people near Barbados. Newly declassified FBI documents place Mr. Posada, a former Venezuelan security official, at two meetings where the bombing was planned.

U.S. authorities have reportedly ruled out sending the man back to Venezuela but could deport him to a third country which has no intention of prosecuting him.

The Bush Administration denied even knowing that the former CIA operative and hero to many in South Florida was in the country until immigration officials abruptly took him into custody after he withdrew his application for political asylum.

Mr. Posada's lawyer, Eduardo Soto, told reporters a month ago that his client had snuck into the United States via Mexico. The Cuban exile himself met with the news media earlier and, according to the Miami Herald, said he was hiding less aggressively lately because the U.S. government did not seem concerned about his whereabouts.

Could that seeming indifference about the man who is linked to deadly bombings from Havana to Barbados reflect the fact that fervent anti-Castro Republicans hail the Cuban exile as a "freedom fighter"?

Government officials initially refused to divulge why Mr. Posada was arrested or where he was taken to a federal lockup in El Paso. His lawyer wondered why someone who had withdrawn an asylum request was detained at all and not simply permitted to leave the country.

Because of the arrest, attorney Soto says he'll renew his client's asylum application to fight deportation. But the United States, in good conscience, cannot grant it. Whatever the political fallout among Cuban exiles in South Florida for President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the administration must maintain a consistent policy against terrorism.



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