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Anti-Castro militant wanted for bombings in Venezuela and Cuba is accused of lying to US immigration officials in a case that shows past passions are very much alive

Havana sign referring to Luis Posada Carriles after his 2007 release (Peter Vanderheyden)

EYES INSIDELATIN AMERICA

For many in Miami "s exile Cuban community, Luis Posada Carriles is a hero. To the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, who have been demanding his extradition from the United States, Posada is your basic blood-thirsty terrorist.

Posada stands trial, which begins this week in US District Court in El Paso, Texas, for charges far less severe than those several Latin American governments accuse him of committing. Federal prosecutors have charged the Cuban-born Venezuelan national with multiple counts of lying to US immigration officials about his past and how he entered the country in March 2005.

But this 82-year-old is not your typical defendant in a Texan immigration case. A former Cold War warrior, Posada's alleged adventures include involvement in the Bay of Pigs debacle, working for Oliver North, and spying for the US on friends and colleagues in Miami who had supported his cause.

US District Judge Kathleen Cardone is trying to avoid turning the case into a prosecution against the Havana government. Outside the courthouse, Posada's supporters and detractors held counter demonstrations.

Groups such as the National Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER) have demanded that Washington extradite Posada to Caracas where he faces charges for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviación airliner, which killed 73.

Posada, who had been running a private detective agency in Caracas at the time, escaped Venezuela while awaiting trial before a civilian court after his conviction by a military court was overturned. In the 1980s, he turned up in Guatemala and El Salvador, where he reportedly helped the CIA and Oliver North funnel arms to Nicaraguan Contras.

The Cuban government has also accused him of helping organize the 1997 rash of hotel bombings in the island that killed an Italian-Canadian tourist, Fabio Di Celmo, at Havana's Copacabana Hotel. The victim's brother, Livio Di Celmo, has accused several Cuban-American US lawmakers of trying to protect Posada, the Caracas daily El Nacional reported.

One of the men Posada allegedly hired to carry out the attacks, Francisco Chávez Abarca, 38, of El Salvador, who was captured in Venezuela and sent to Cuba to face trial, was sentenced to 30 years in prison last month. On Monday, Cuban television broadcast part of his confession in which Chávez Abarca claims he was "Posada's puppet."

In 2000, Panamanian authorities arrested Posada for trying to assassinate Fidel Castro during the Ibero American Summit with 200 pounds of dynamite. After being convicted, he was later pardoned by then-President Mireya Moscoso in a controversial decision. Posada has denied the charges. Even Venezuela "s Hugo Chávez has claimed that Posada sent his men to El Salvador in June 2009 to assassinate him.

After Posada showed up in the United States in 2005, he told immigration officials that he entered with the help of an alien smuggler by crossing the US-Mexican border into Brownsville, Texas. But federal prosecutors say that several accomplices helped him sneak into the country aboard a shrimp vessel through Miami, using a fake Guatemalan passport. He was jailed, but later released in 2007, and is currently living in Miami with his family.

Posada hasn't given up his anti-Castro rhetoric. In one interview he gave to the Associated Press in 2007, the fiery exile said: "If Castro came through the door, I'd kill him, not because I hate him but because I'd kill a cockroach too."

Martin Delfín

Worldcrunch

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