Venezuela asks US to extradite Cuban exile bomb suspect


THE US: The Venezuelan government is seeking the extradition from the US of Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted in Venezuela on charges of bombing a Cuban airliner in 1976 and is now believed to be in Florida.

The request poses an embarrassing dilemma for Washington, which has rarely clamped down on anti-Castro militants, but insists that no country should harbour terrorists.

Mr Posada (77) is a prime suspect in the bombing of the Cuban passenger aircraft that killed 73 people, including a Cuban youth fencing team.

He has claimed responsibility for plotting attacks on Havana hotels in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist, and he was imprisoned in Panama five years ago on charges of trying to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

His US lawyer Eduardo Soto told a press conference last month that Mr Posada slipped back into the United States six weeks ago and is seeking asylum.

On Friday, Venezuelan foreign minister Ali Rodriguez said his government would ask the US to extradite him.

The Bush administration has denied any knowledge of Mr Posada's whereabouts and the State Department's senior Latin America official, Roger Noriega, said that the government had no interest in granting asylum to someone who had carried out criminal acts. If asylum is not granted the US can imprison Mr Posada, who worked for the CIA from 1961 to 1967, for entering the country illegally or deport him to Venezuela.

Putting Mr Posada in jail would, however, be a seen as a triumph for Fidel Castro, who has termed the exiled Cuban the worst terrorist in the Western hemisphere, while extraditing him to Venezuela would give a diplomatic victory to Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez, who is regarded as hostile by the Bush administration.

It could also provoke an angry reaction from conservative Cuban Americans who support Florida governor Jeb Bush and president George Bush.

Another Cuban exile, Orlando Bosch, who allegedly helped Mr Posada mastermind the airline bombing, was ordered deported from Florida in 1989 after the Justice Department described him as "a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency", but President Bush snr overruled the deportation in 1990 and Bosch has lived freely in Florida ever since.

He said in a radio interview in Miami on Friday that he had spoken by telephone with Mr Posada, who, "as everybody knows is here".

Mr Posada and Mr Bosch have denied involvement in the airline bombing.