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U.S. Mustn't Let Terrorism Suspect Stay
By Ray Quintanilla, Sentinel Columnist
15 May 2005
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Crowds of Dominicans sit in a federal detention center a few miles from here, their only crime being a desperate longing for asylum after escaping economic and political deprivation at home.
Hundreds arrive on rickety boats via the Mona Passage, fleeing living conditions that are among the hemisphere's worst. Once caught by U.S. immigration officials, they are quickly returned to Santo Domingo because the U.S. government says they are not "political refugees" like the many Cubans who arrive here in the same manner.
That's what makes the case of Luis Posada Carriles, a 77-year-old Cuban, so important to watch during the next few weeks. Carriles reportedly entered the United States illegally a few weeks ago. And now he has a lawyer who is busy trying to determine whether the Cuban exile -- suspected of involvement in several acts of terrorism in the hemisphere -- can qualify for political asylum.
If he did qualify, what message would that send to hundreds of Dominicans risking their lives to enter Puerto Rico to escape one of the most backward governments in modern history?
For the record, the U.S. State Department says it doesn't know whether Carriles is in the United States.
But even the discussion of political asylum seems to smack of a double standard to many immigrants who face deportation.
During the past four decades, Carriles has been a suspect in a litany of terrorist acts -- including the downing of a Cuban jetliner over Venezuela in 1976 in which 73 people died, and a hotel bombing in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist.
Twenty years after the jetliner bombing, The New York Times quoted Carriles admitting to a role in the attack.
FBI documents released to reporters indicate Carriles, a staunch opponent of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, was on the CIA payroll during the 1960s and 1970s. He earned $300 or so a month to be a subversive force against the Castro government.
Castro also has said Carriles, who fled Cuba after the island's 1959 revolution, is thought to have been responsible for numerous bombings in Cuba through the years.
The Cuban and Venezuelan governments want Carriles extradited so he can stand trial and face a firing squad.
If Carriles does surface in the United States, the government faces three choices: send him back to his homeland; send him to Venezuela, which is seeking extradition for the jetliner bombing; or allow him a chance for asylum that thousands of other illegal immigrants can only dream about.
Six months into fiscal year 2005 -- which runs from October through the end of September -- nearly 4,000 Dominicans have been arrested on immigration charges here. That number was a record 8,400 in 2004.
Their future, once they've reached these shores, is always the same: a one-way journey back home.