How I Missed the Posada Story

Well, it just so happened I was gearing up for a vacation when Luis Posada Carriles decided to announce he had sneaked into the United States, putting the Bush administration on the spot and setting the stage for a huge public-relations triumph for his nemesis Fidel Castro. That was in mid-April.

Is a serious journalist really expected to cancel a bonefishing excursion to a tranquil corner of the Bahamas and instead try to track down this decomposing geezer for yet another duplicitous interview? I don't think so. Besides, in our post-9/11 world, what were the chances a mere reporter could find Posada before high-tech Homeland Security agents swooped in and snatched him? After all, the man is a convicted terrorist. (Last year a Panamanian court found him guilty of "endangering public security" in a plot to murder Castro using C4 explosives.)

But even if I had secretly trailed Posada's hotheaded Miami host and financial patron, Santiago Alvarez, to the hiding place, and even if I'd been received with open arms, what new would the fanatical "man of action" have to say? More important, why would anyone believe it?

He once told the New York Times he had organized the lethal Havana hotel bombings of 1997, and revealed that Cuban American National Foundation founder Jorge Mas Canosa had financed them. But after the remarks were published, Posada recanted them.

In 2001 we exchanged correspondence as he sat in a Panamanian jail cell. In a letter he explained his mention of Mas Canosa was a "tactical error." He also claimed his mission in Panama had been to help the chief of Cuba's intelligence service defect -- not to detonate C4 in Fidel's face. He "repudiated terrorism" but still considered a "military solution" to be "viable" and "abundantly justified." All of this mumbo jumbo was dutifully reported in my story "Fidel Made Them Do It" (August 9, 2001).

So I went fishing.

When I returned to work this past May 16, I was shocked to discover Posada had successfully eluded the feds and (supposedly) was still at large somewhere in Miami. I also learned the editor of this paper was prepared to offer a $500 reward for information leading to Posada's whereabouts. So I sprang into action and called Santiago Alvarez, hoping he would slip me a lead.

"WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT I WOULD WANT TO TALK TO YOU AGAIN?" Alvarez yelled at me over the phone. "What makes you think that -- you write something like that -- I want to talk to you again?" His chief complaint: In the 2001 article I had referred to his office in a Hialeah strip mall as a "war room." The image was more than a metaphor, especially for someone like Posada, who champions violent struggle against the Cuban government and, as he wrote to me in 2001, considers the death of 32-year-old Fabio Di Celmo in one of the Havana hotel bombings "a sacrifice."

Alvarez: "I was very candid and I was very frank with you, and you come up with stuff like that? And you expect for me to talk to you again?"

I protested. My article, I reminded him, had provided the most complete account (4000 words!) of what Posada said he was up to in Panama.

Alvarez: "If you want me to talk to you again, you apologize to me in print, in your paper, and then you talk to me again!"

The belligerence continued the next day at a secret news conference in a Hialeah warehouse, which Alvarez hadn't bothered to mention to me. ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman asked -- frankly and candidly -- a question about the 1997 Havana bombings. Alvarez shouted him down. Queries about that topic were not allowed.

New York Times correspondent Abby Goodnough reported she refused to attend the news conference "because of the terms, which included being driven by Mr. Posada's associates to an undisclosed location and agreeing to ask only certain questions." Good for her. Buying into that kind of deal would be like going to a Homeland Security press briefing and agreeing not to ask why it took U.S. authorities more than two months to arrest Posada.

 
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