Outrage and Double Standards: The Lockerbie and Cubana Airline Bombings

The recent release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basete al-Megrahi produced immediate outrage from the White House in reaction to later scenes of jubilation marking his arrival in Libya.

Al-Megrahi had been freed on humanitarian grounds by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. The former intelligence agent for the Libya government has advanced prostate cancer and is not expected to live more than a few months. He was the only person actually convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York, which killed all 259 on board the aircraft as well as 11 residents of the village of Lockerbie. A majority of the passengers were U.S. citizens.

Prior to his release, warnings were given by President Obama and members of Congress to Libya authorities not to celebrate the terrorist’s return. When the images were shown of al-Megrahi waving to a cheering crowd at the Tripoli airport, the rebuke was instantaneous. President Obama said the sight was “highly objectionable.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the media coverage of the scene, “tremendously offensive to the survivors that, as I said, lost a loved one in 1988. I think the images we saw in Libya were outrageous and disgusting.”

He added threateningly that the White House had contacted the Libya side to express its indignation. “We have discussed with the Libyans about what we think is appropriate. We’ll continue to watch the actions of this individual and the Libyan government.” Implications of oil diplomacy hung in the air.
In reaction, it came as no surprise that family members of the victims were enraged. Many called it an intolerable slap in the face to the memories of their loved ones. Watching the reception, “just turns our stomach” said Frank Dugan, president of the victims’ organization.

The rage and fury should not have been unexpected. To watch a terrorist walk free, then to endure the added indignity of having him hailed as a returning hero – it would appear that few countries have had a more legitimate case than the United States to express its outrage.

Except maybe Cuba.

The velocity of the ire from the U.S. side is a revealing (some might say hypocritical) reaction when compared to Washington’s treatment of its own cartel of U.S.- protected terrorists, including Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. These two were the masterminds behind the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, the second worst act of air terrorism in the Americas after 9/11.

Notwithstanding attempts at deportation and minor charges regarding immigration matters, Cuban born Bosch and Posada continue to live unmolested in Miami and are treated as heroes by hard-line segments of the Cuban community. The pair, responsible for a long line of terrorist activities yet treated as virtual celebrities, have appeared on various local television and radio stations, attended a variety of public functions, and Bosch was even photographed in the front row at a speech made in 2002 in Miami by President George W. Bush. In 1982 the Miami city commission held a Dr. Orlando Bosch Day while the guest of honor was at the time in a Venezuelan jail. The event, including a religious ceremony and a civic proclamation at City Hall, was attended by hundreds. Keep in mind it was celebrating two of the most notorious terrorists in the hemisphere.

Posada is now a part-time artist who has sold his works at numerous gallery exhibits throughout South Florida; proceeds from his artistic endeavors have earned him thousands of dollars. He is often seen at public functions and is unfailingly greeted by supporters who champion his cause as a freedom fighter.

Bosch was once described as the Western Hemisphere’s “most dangerous terrorist” by the FBI, and Posada is currently under investigation for lying about his connection with a string of bombings against various Cuban tourist targets in 1997. However, neither one has ever faced legal proceedings in the United States regarding their role in the Cubana Airlines bombing.

This is in spite of overwhelming evidence, including multiple reports from American intelligence agencies, that has irrefutably established the pair’s involvement in the downing of the passenger airliner. On its fatal flight, the Cubana DC 8 had taken off from Barbados on its way to Jamaica, and then to its final destination, Havana. The flight originated from Venezuela, with a short stop in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Seventy three people were on board, including the entire Cuban junior national fencing team, which was returning home following a successful tournament in Caracas.

Less than 10 minutes after take off, a bomb exploded under a seat adjacent to the left wing. A desperate attempt was made to return the craft back to the Barbados airport following the blast. The crew had managed to pilot the plane to within five miles of the coast before a second explosion in the rear washroom split the DC-8 in half, sending it crashing into the sea and killing all on board.

The subsequent investigation established that two Venezuelan nationals, Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo, had placed the bombs after boarding the plane in Trinidad. Lugo and Ricardo got off in Barbados, returning to Port of Spain the next day where they were arrested by local authorities.

During subsequent interrogations both testified that Posada and Bosch were the architects of the act and were paid $25,000 to plant the explosives. It was quickly established that Ricardo was employed by Posada’s Caracas private detective agency. At the time of the bombing Posada, already a long-time CIA operative, was a Venezuelan citizen working with that country’s secret police. Ricardo had recruited his friend Lugo to join him in the fiendish plot.

Bosch was head of a group of anti-Castro organizations known as the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), to which Posada was connected. The pair’s involvement was described years later in a report filed by acting Associate Attorney General Joe Whitely, who detailed, “Information reflecting that the October 6, 1976 Cuban airline bombing was a CORU operation under the direction of Bosch. CORU is the name of Bosch’s terrorist organization.” The description was part of an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the U.S. Department of Justice to have Bosch deported, which was blocked by Washington as a result of political connections.

A declassified CIA document dated October 12, 1976, quotes Posada at a CORU meeting a month before the bombing as saying, “We are going to hit a Cuban airliner… Orlando has the details.” The document was released in 2005 by the National Security Archives.

The four principal figures involved in hatching and carrying out the bombing plot, Lugo, Ricardo, Bosch and Posada, were arrested and jailed in Venezuela. Bosch evaded final sentencing on a technicality connected to the translation of evidence. After being released, he made a highly publicized, though illegal return to the United States in 1988. Despite not having a visa, he flew into Miami where he was detained for a prior parole violation and for his unlawful entry into the country. Disgracefully, his arrival was greeted enthusiastically by hundreds of supporters in the city’s Cuban-American community.

At this point, U.S. authorities held Bosch and initiated deportation orders, after the FBI designated him as the Western Hemisphere’s worst terrorist, as well as describing him as a person with no respect for human rights. The deportation process was derailed when in July 1990 Bosch was granted a full pardon by President H.W. Bush. The pardon was arranged through the office of his son and later governor, Jeb Bush, who at the time was campaign manager for Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an extremist Cuban-American legislature who was serving in Congress. In 1987 after Bosch had been incarcerated and was waiting for the decision on his deportation, Ros-Lehtinen described him as a hero and a patriot to the local media. She also helped raise $265,000 to cover his legal costs. She continues in Congress as the dean of the greater Dade county, contingent of rightist legislators that include Lincoln Diaz-Bilart (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Bilart (R-FL) and Connie Mack (R-FL), staunch supporters of the government’s longstanding full range anti-Castro policies.

When the pardon was announced, a series of celebrations were held throughout Miami. Once Bosch was back in the community, he proclaimed he was ready to ‘rejoin the struggle,’ renouncing the agreement he signed with the administration disavowing further violence against Cuba. In 1992, the Bush administration granted Bosch his U.S. legal residency.

Posada’s return to America was somewhat more circuitous. He managed to avoid a long jail sentence by bribing prison officials and walking out of his Venezuelan prison cell with the help of compliant guards. He ended up in Nicaragua fighting for the Contras, then settled in San Salvador. In May 2005 after showing up in Miami, holding a well attended press conference, and demanding political asylum, he was arrested for illegal entry. Posada was released in 2007 after posting a bond, to be greeted by cheers in Miami and disbelief in Havana.

Last year, the Justice Department issued an “order of removal,” but it professes that it has yet to find an acceptable country willing to take him.

Besides the Cubana bombing, Posada and Bosch have been accused of various acts of terrorism going back to the early 1960s. Bosch was arrested in Florida in 1968 for an attack on a Polish freighter in a Miami harbor on its way to Cuba. He has since been linked to more than 50 bombings against Cuban island civilian targets.

Posada was a member of the Cuban American brigade that invaded the island at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. As a CIA agent in the 1960s and 70s, he was connected to acts against Cuban officials outside the country, including his arrest in 2000 for the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro at a press conference that the Cuban leader was staging in Panama. In 2004 he was sentenced to prison for his part in the proposed hit, though four months later, Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso issued a pardon to him on very shaky grounds. Moscoso, who left office soon after, now lives in Miami. Former Panamanian President Martin Torrijos called Posada’s pardon by Moscoso unconstitutional and demanded his return.

The media, particularly in Miami, has not been shy to give Bosch and Posada a huge tranche of sympathetic publicity. On live radio on June 6, 2002, and again in the June 16 issue of the Diario de las Americas, Bosch reiterated his call for terrorism against Cuba. On August 21, 2001 he published a widely reported Declaration of Principles in which he considers terrorist actions against Cuba as legitimate. On December 5, 2002 Miami New Times quoted Bosch as saying: “There were no innocents on that plane. They were all henchmen,” in reference to the Cubana Airlines bombing.

Posada also has been interviewed on numerous occasions, including in the Miami Herald supplement Tropic, in which he wrote a major piece in the November 1991 issue of the publication. A very revealing piece appeared in a New York Times article in 1998 which outlined his history of terrorist activities. This included his admission, which was later denied, of direct involvement in the 1997 hotel bombing campaign on Cuba, in which Italian tourist Fabio Di Celmo was killed when one of the bombs went off in front of the Copacabana Hotel in Havana.
So while America expresses its bitterness over the gross indifference of those to Lockerbie, there exists a large dichotomy. There remains little concern regarding Cuba’s anger over the White House’s complete indifference to the island’s hurt over the heavy loss of life at the hands of the terrorist attack.

This is a direct contradiction to President Bush’s own proclamation after 9/11 when he told the world, “We’ve got to say to people who are willing to harbor a terrorist or feed a terrorist: ‘You’re just as guilty as the terrorist.’” Of course, passivity over Posada amply revealed the Bush administration’s selective indignation when it comes to one distinguished instance of terrorism, in contrast to that allegedly authored by a White House-favored misanthropy.
The Cuban government persists with its demands for the pair’s arrest. The relatives of the victims continue to suffer, all the more so when they see Bosch and Posada living con frio lives in Miami.

Besides this grievance, the Cuban government continues calling for the release of the Cuban Five, who were agents sent on an intelligence mission to Florida more than a decade ago to infiltrate counter-revolutionary entities in order to prevent further terrorist attacks against the island to take place. The Five are serving extremely lengthy jail terms for conspiracy to commit espionage, although in the course of the trial no proof was presented that U.S. government secrets were ever compromised by what was later claimed to be an entirely defensive action. The Cubans claim the unjust circumstances of the imprisonment was entirely politically motivated and particularly galling, especially when contrasted with the freedom and celebrity status which was enjoyed by Bosch and Posada for decades while residing in Miami.

While any judicial action against Bosch and Posada for their roles in the Cubana Airlines bombing seems altogether unlikely, the Cuban side hopes to at the very least, see the end of Washington’s indignation over Lockerbie. However, indifference to the bombing of the Cuban airline has symbolized that when it comes to terrorism, the U.S. has been entirely selective.

Note: You might also want to consult a related article on the subject: Posada Carriles, Child of Scorn: Yet Another Example of the White House’s Denigration of its War on Terrorism, which Woefully Lacks Integrity, Coherence or Consistency

Keith Bolender is author of the forthcoming book, Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba (Pluto Press, London England, 2010).

14 thoughts on “Outrage and Double Standards: The Lockerbie and Cubana Airline Bombings

  • November 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm
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    Mr. Bolender, there must more to this story. George H. W. Bush was the head of the CIA at the time of the Cubana bombing. Bush and Gerald Ford were covertly supporting the anti-communist forces in the Angola civil war, despite a congressional ban on US military aid to Angola. At the same time, eleven thousand Cuban troops were in Angola at the behest of the Soviet Union, fighting on the side of the communists. I wonder, for instance, who else was on the Cubana plane? Is it possible that the bombing was not an act of terrorism, but was directly related to the war in Angola?

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    • November 4, 2009 at 12:37 am
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      It is surprising that you question the bombing as not being an act of terrorism !?
      You mean because onboard there was just a buch of Cuban teenagers not worth of your simpathy ? Or just because they were just Cuban ?
      Were there In the Lockerbie flight more Caucassians ?
      And you call "fighting on the side of the communists" the support given by Cuban forces to the legitimate government headed by Agostino Neto's MPLA ?
      And you add to your comment that the Cuban forces "were in Angola at the behest of the Soviet Union", when it's well documented the split between the USSR and Cuba on this matter.
      Please, do your homework.

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      • November 5, 2009 at 1:15 am
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        Jorge, I am not an expert on Cuban history or the civil war in Angola. However, in 1979 Russia was still paying all the bills for Cuba. I am guessing that Castro could not even change his brand of toothpaste without permission from the Kremlin, much less wage a war in Angola. The "split" with Russia you mention probably occurred because Brezhnev could no longer afford Castro's macho, meaningless war games. To answer your questions, all of us abhor innocent death. Furthermore I am sorry that you are so preoccupied with racism that you immediately swing that dull blade at me. All I am trying to say is that many honorable and ethical American leaders have reviewed the case and have refused to prosecute Posada and Bosch – many are the same leaders who have jailed fellow Americans for Abu Ghraib and other much lesser war crimes. I would like to know why. There is obviously more to the story besides ascribing immorality and dishonesty to all American leadership.

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  • November 3, 2009 at 11:04 pm
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    Good article. But there is one error. The Cubana flight originated in Guyana and on board there were 11 Guyanese, including students who were going to Cuba to study medicine. The Cubans joined the flight in Trinidad after traveling from Caracas on another airline.

    Daren David

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    • November 4, 2009 at 10:17 pm
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      Always told by the Cubans that flight 455 originated in Venezuela; the cubans were on from the start. they flew to pick up the Guyanese and a number of cuban fishermen in Guyana. the two bombers got on in Trinidad and then off in Barbados.

      Reply
  • November 4, 2009 at 2:54 am
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    I'm really not sure why this writer expresses shock at the U.S. denouncing terrorists who do not share their goals while shielding those who once did. Countries lie, cheat and do whatever else is necessary in order to advance their strategic goals. Avoiding double standards is impossible in international relations, and perfection only the realm of academics and idealists. I think the sooner people realize that NO LEADER, not Barack Obama, not George W. Bush or anybody else is above Machiavellian maneuverings in order to achieve their aims, the better they will understand how the world truly works.

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  • November 4, 2009 at 7:46 am
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    I agree there is obviously much more to this story . Obama has read the file and Posada is not on any hot seat . The CIA probably put it together , and Castro had something up his sleave that put civilains in harms way which he has done repeatedly . He tried to catch Posada in Panama in an assasination scheme that could have killed 100s .

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  • November 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm
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    Mr. McDonald expresses what has long been held as the mainstream point of view in the US re Cuba's internationalism, most notably in Angola, but this is clearly not an accurate position. The definitive work on this in the US is "Conflicting Missions," by Prof. Piero Gleijeses from Johns Hopkins, who also has a new book coming out this month on Cuba's foreign policy going forward. The extensive film "Cuba: An African Odyssey," also documents this very well. Both are worth checking out, and completely refute this notion (that Castro was simly a puppet of Soviet policies) based on primary sources from multiple nations and movements that were involved.

    Art Heitzer, Chair, Natl. Lawyers Guild, Cuba Subcommittee

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  • November 5, 2009 at 5:18 pm
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    Responding to Thomas, et. al.:

    I also find the attempts to make Castro responsible for attacks on Cuban civilians somewhat sad; e.g., the comment above that when Castro appeared in Panama to speak to university students there, and revealed in advance Posada's assassination plot, so that Posada & co. could be arrested by Panamanian authorities with explosives in hand, his actions were somehow "putting civilians in harms way." Quite the opposite, and a tribute to Cuban intelligence's ability to avert many attempts at assassination not only of him, but of many other innocents.

    Art Heitzer

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    • November 7, 2009 at 2:21 am
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      Keith, your info on the flight is wrong. The Cubana flight 454 was a weekly flight from Havana to Georgetown with stops at Kingston, Bridgetown and Port of Spain. The plane over-nighted in Georgetown and then would leave around midday as CU455 stopping at Port of Spain, Bridgetown and Kingston. I traveled on Cubana 455 to Havana twice in the 1976. In Port of Spain it picked up passengers who arrived with the Aeropostal and Viasa flights from Caracas.

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      • November 7, 2009 at 5:13 pm
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        thanks for the info, let me check on it in cuba; i can get access to the itinerary from the victims organization. it may have been something special for this flight cause it was carrying the cuban sportspeople.

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  • November 7, 2009 at 2:23 am
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    I should add that my flights on Cubana 455 were from Georgetown (Guyana) to Havana and back.

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  • November 8, 2009 at 3:22 pm
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    Dear Keath Bollender, thank you very much for this brilliant article. I think, it doesn't matter, if the Cubana 455 originally startet originally from Guyana, well there had been Guyanese people on board too, but the terrorist attack was addressed to Cubans and to those being friends of Cuba.
    Please, excuse me for my poor English, but I have to object to some of the comments above.
    Cuba's contribution to the war in Angola was for helping black people to overcome the Apartheid regime. And the only condition Cuba called for in the treaty of peace then was to free Nelson Mandela from his prison on Robbin Island. And Nelson Mandela said words like that to Fidel Castro: "I ow you my freedom " or so. The value of this article in my opinion is that it shows the double standard and the hypocrisy of Washington in its so called war on terrorism.
    Another aspect to consider is when mentioning Cuba's former dependance from the Soviet Union: it was forced to seek for help confronting such a powerful enemy in his neighborhood.
    You have to consider the interferences during the Cold War.
    Do you remember the McCarthy era? When German communists having fled from Germany during the Nazi regime into the USA, as poets and authors like Berthold Brecht and Heinrich Mann, they fled from the "land of the free" to the former GDR where they could live in peace and would not be imprisoned.
    For instance, during the 1950s in Western Germany (in dependance from USA) the same communists having been in imprisoned by Nazis were imprisoned again by our government.
    History is much more complicated than you obviously have learned at school. Please, make your own research.
    Apart from that, I appreciate very much the mentioning of the "Cuban Five", see: http://www.freethefive.org .

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  • November 13, 2009 at 5:45 pm
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    Any terrorist act is stunning, but Castro was the first terrorist in Cuba. Were justifiable the bombs planted in Cuba by 26/7? Maybe the “cause”, “revolutionary violence” justify that.
    Many years with no proof / certainty that it was done by those guys it is almost a stupidity making echo of that. Very rare similarity with the Cuban Five convicted of a crime but elevate dot the category of heroes with the assistant of ingenious writers.
    Not justifiable, but it may be an answer to Castro’s position “I took this by bullets and MUST be taken by bullets”In other hand, why no other investigation lines were / are followed? “. After declaring that it was a set-up to those anti-communists, El Mono Morales” was killed and he knew well because he part of Cuban intelligence.
    Not suspicious yet? Great for you, being an agent of propaganda / intelligence / organized crime organization in the world has some rewards. Just a supporter, an informant, a channel is rewarded too! Go for it!!

    Reply

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