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Ex-CIA operative tells story of U.S. presence in Latin America

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles was acquitted by U.S. court
  • Extradition to Venezuela and Cuba blocked by U.S. courts
  • "The battle against Cuba has already been won," Posada says
  • Human rights activists say he was behind hotel bombings, other deadly attacks in Latin America

Miami (CNN) -- Luis Posada Carriles told CNN recently he would "be gentle" with a newspaper reporter who accused him of masterminding decades of violent terrorist attacks in Central America, several to overthrow Fidel Castro.

Known as "Bambi" by his Miami-Cuban supporters, the octogenarian fighter turned fugitive had harsher words for Fidel Castro, his lifetime foe.

"If he walked through that door, I would kill him," Posada said.

But far from a docile fawn, critics say, Posada is behind a string of hotel bombings and other deadly attacks in Latin America, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people on board. He denies all allegations.

Still wanted by Venezuela and Cuba for "terrorist acts," Posada, who lives with his family in Miami, said he was elated when a jury in El Paso, Texas, found him not guilty earlier this month on 11 counts ranging from perjury to subversion.

"It was hugely emotional to hear it, 'not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, not guilty' 11 times," he said. "What more can I say? It is a country of justice."

Venezuela has dismissed as "farce" the Texas jury's decision to acquit Posada, who faced charges of lying to U.S. immigration officials and involvement in attacks on Cuba. If convicted, he would have faced five to eight years in prison.

Posada's reclusive and elusive life story as a U.S. protegee and eventually a diplomatic liability is a sore point in the history of U.S. relations with Latin America.

Born in Cuba, Posada dedicated his life to anti-Marxist, anti-Castro covert activities.

Wanted by some nations and sheltered by others, Posada's journeys through some Latin American nations during civil wars illustrate the checkered political map of the region as the U.S. sought to undermine Marxist movements in Central America, many backed by Cuba's Castro regime.

Posada became a CIA operative in the 1960s after leaving Cuba. In the 1970s, he was working for the Venezuelan secret police when the Cubana Airlines flight blew up, killing 73. Suspects arrested identified Posada as one of the plotters.

Posada was jailed for nine years in Venezuela, but he was never convicted and escaped in 1985. He denies all charges.

"In the beginning, as the chief of operations for the Venezuelan Police, Cuba disembarked three generals on Venezuelan soil," Posada told CNN en Espanol anchor Fernando Rincon. "The operation against these people was a violent one. It was the only way to suppress a Communist incursion into Venezuela," he said.

Posada received CIA training in explosives and sabotage at Fort Benning, Georgia, after helping to organize the failed Bay of Pigs operation to oust Castro in 1961.

He said he stopped working for the CIA in 1968 but in the 1980s helped the U.S.-backed secret Contra supply network in Central America.

According to CIA declassified files, Posada enlisted fighters to overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1965 and other covert, anti-Communist activities throughout the region. The declassified CIA documents allege he organized large shipments of ammunition and weaponry throughout.

In El Salvador in the mid-1980s, Posada told CNN, he became a presidential protegee when he helped the government fight Marxist guerrillas.

"I had a presidential minder greet me," Posada said. "I had support from the military."

Posada was also implicated in a string of terrorist bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed 11 people in a tourist area.

A senior official familiar with Posada's career said the CIA considers him "radioactive" and said he is no longer linked to the agency.

But Posada, now celebrating his victory in U.S. courts, said he would give his life to Cuba but sees no reason to fight.

"I don't need to engage in the armed struggle against Cuba," Posada told CNN. "The battle against Cuba has already been won. They don't exist anymore. They are falling to pieces," he said.

CNN's Fernando Rincon and Helena de Moura contributed to this report.