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Deport them all: the war on terror is more politics than justice when it comes to Latin America's most wanted.

George Bush's hypocrisy on terrorism is as plain as the sign on Armando Fernandez Lario's auto body shop in Miami.

In 2003, a Miami civil court declared Fernandez responsible for the killing and torture of a political prisoner in 1973 as a member of the "Caravan of Death," a roving team of secret police that executed people following Gen. Augusto Pinochet's military coup that year that toppled Chile's President Salvador Allende. He is also under indictment for the 1974 Buenos Aires car-bomb murders of Carlos Prats, the former commander of the Chilean Army, and Prats' wife, Sofia.

Fernandez has admitted to being an accessory in the car-bomb murders of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his associate, Ronni Moffitt, on the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1976. The United States has declined to send him to Argentina for trial and he continues to run his business near Miami's International airport.

Fernandez is not the only Latin American terrorist being treated with kid gloves, in contrast to suspected Islamic militants in U.S. custody around the world.

Jose Antonio Colina and German Rodolfo Varela, two former Venezuelan military officers, stand accused of bombing the Spanish Embassy and the Colombian consulate in 2003 in a reputed attempt to embarrass the government of President Hugo Chavez. U.S. immigration authorities are holding them after a U.S. judge deferred their deportation to Venezuela.

But the most infamous terrorist to seek U.S. sanctuary is Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro Cuban wanted in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Even though Posada is on a U.S. watch list, immigration officials didn't take him into custody until he boasted to a group of reporters in May about illegally entering the United States. He's being held for illegally entering the United States, not for any terrorist charges, and is seeking asylum.

If Washington refuses to extradite them, how can other countries take Bush seriously when he pledges to flush out terrorists no matter where they are?

But here's where the hypocrisy comes in. Fernandez killed supporters of a leftist president that the U.S. helped depose. Bush is no fan of Chavez and both he and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, are not about to offend their Cuban-American constituency. Posada, a strident anti-Communist, is regarded as a hero to many in that state's politically powerful anti-Castro Cuban community. He escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 after paying a hefty bribe.

Posada nevertheless has a long history of planning assassinations and planting bombs in Cuban government offices, beginning in the early 1960s after the CIA trained him in demolition and guerrilla warfare. In 1997, he allegedly orchestrated a dozen bombings in Cuba intended to deter the growing tourism trade. An Italian businessman was killed and 11 people were wounded as a result. In a taped interview, he later said: "It's sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop."

Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the U.S. National Security Archive, an independent research institute in Washington, told me he has declassified CIA and FBI documents quoting informants linking Posada to planning meetings for the 1976 plane bombing.

The Bush administration also has challenged the one U.S. statute that victims of Latin American terrorism have used to bring terrorists to justice. The Alien Torts Claims Act, signed by U.S. President George Washington in 1789 to protect Americans from pirates, established jurisdiction over foreign citizens for crimes committed on foreign soil against foreigners.

It was a legal footnote until 1984, when a Paraguayan family successfully used it to sue a Paraguayan police official living in the United States who had tortured their son to death. Since then, human-rights lawyers have invoked the law when both victim and perpetrator live in the United States to file more than 70 civil lawsuits against state-sponsored terrorists, including against individuals from Guatemala, Argentina, and El Salvador. The White House is fearful the law could be used to sue U.S. officials abroad. Yet early this year, the U.S. Supreme Court had the good sense to reject Bush administration demands to limit it.

"The war on terrorism is paramount and trumps all other foreign policy issues," says Kornbluh. If only President Bush could see that.

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Comment:Deport them all: the war on terror is more politics than justice when it comes to Latin America's most wanted.
Author:Epstein, Jack
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Previous Article:Collision course.
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