Bad Piece of Fruit from Moscoso’s Panamanian Rep.
Bad Piece of Fruit from Moscoso’s Panamanian Banana Republic
• Former Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso’s eleventh-hour pardons to four incarcerated Cuban-Americans may have been good news for Miami’s anti-Castro extremists, but they created a diplomatic disaster for her successor and dealt a heavy blow to the White House’s crusade against terrorism.
• The four released by Moscoso are experienced terrorists who have been convicted or implicated in numerous violent attacks throughout the hemisphere.
• Moscoso’s rather pathetic justification for her indefensible actions – that she feared the incoming Torrijos administration might extradite the convicted terrorists back to Venezuela or Cuba, where they would be killed – fails to pass scrutiny.
• Unless totally incompetent, Moscoso must have been aware that her “fears” were groundless, given Venezuela’s constitutional ban on capital punishment and the Cuban government’s pledge to not apply the death penalty to the criminals.
• That Moscoso discussed the pardon with a prominent Cuban-American and former U.S. Ambassador to Panama, and that three of the four criminals were flown directly to Miami via private jet upon their release, suggests that the pardons were part of a shady arrangement between cronies rather than a humanitarian action.
• Given that the pardoned four were notorious terrorists, Washington’s curious silence and accommodating attitude regarding the affair is a disturbing indication of how seriously the White House takes its so-called “War on Terror.”
• The Bush administration’s desire to woo swing-state Florida’s Cuban-American constituency at all costs will inevitably undercut its international position in the struggle against terrorism.
America’s War on Terror has been dealt a moral blow by the very leaders who claim to be directing the charge. It is indeed strange that, given its single-minded obsession with terrorism, the Bush administration has failed to cast so much as a disapproving glance in the direction of former Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, who granted clemency to four convicted terrorists last month. Puzzling still, three of the terrorists, who are U.S. citizens, were allowed to return home to Miami, where they received a hero’s welcome upon their August 26 arrival. Unfortunately, such hypocrisy has long been, and continues to be, the norm for Washington, which conveniently overlooks the violent terrorist activities of anti-Castro Cuban exile groups in a slavishly partisan effort to pander to the political clout and campaign contributions of wealthy Cuban-American voters in southern Florida.
Last April, a Panamanian court convicted Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo, Pedro Remón Rodríguez, Guillermo Novo Sampoll and Luis Posada Carriles on charges of endangering public safety and falsifying documents stemming from a foiled attempt to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro during a 2000 Inter-American summit in Panama City. The court found that the foursome conspired to plant a powerful bomb in the auditorium at the University of Panama where Castro was scheduled to deliver a speech – a plan that, if carried out, surely would have taken the lives of innocent summit attendees in addition to that of the aging Cuban strongman. The Inter Press Service reported that, according to organizations knowledgeable about the case, Panamanian authorities seized explosives sufficient to destroy several city blocks and claim hundreds, if not thousands of lives, in connection with the would-be bomb plot.
Moreover, the 2000 assassination attempt was not the first time that these individuals had been implicated in terrorist acts. In 1976, a Mexican court convicted the aforementioned Cuban-American Jiménez Escobedo for the attempted kidnapping of the Cuban consul in Mérida, Mexico. Cuban-American Remón Rodríguez, served 10 years in a federal prison for his botched 1980 attempt on the life of Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations, Raul Roa-Kouri. A third Cuban-American, Novo Sampoll, a known member of Omega-7, the violent anti-Castro group behind numerous bombings and murders between 1975 and 1983, was also convicted, but later acquitted on a technicality, for the 1976 car-bomb assassination of dissident former Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier, in Washington, DC.
At age 76, the group’s elder statesman and most notorious member, Luis Posada Carriles, has dedicated his life to fighting Fidel Castro and, in the process, earned a terrorist rap sheet that rivals those of Carlos “the Jackal” Ramírez and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed. After training in the early 1960’s for the CIA’s ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada Carriles immigrated to Venezuela where he worked in that country’s rogue intelligence service, the DIS, from 1967-1976. In 1976, Posada Carriles masterminded an operation that placed a bomb aboard a Cuban jetliner and, consequently, claimed the lives of all 73 passengers and crew. After his escape from a Venezuelan prison while awaiting trial, Posada Carriles was prosecuted in absentia, found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison by a Venezuelan court for his lead role in the jetliner bombing. In the late 1990s, Posada Carriles admitted to the New York Times to planning the bombings of Havana hotels in 1997 that left one tourist dead and several others injured.
Considered a staunch ally in the Bush administration’s war against terror, President Moscoso had previously publicly condemned “any terror attack or attempt on innocent human lives.” Notwithstanding her supposed hard anti-terror line and the four prisoners’ career terrorist credentials and criminal convictions, Moscoso repeatedly denied extradition requests from both the Cuban and Venezuelan governments and finally pardoned the four convicts just days before the end of her presidential term. Feigning humanitarian concern, Moscoso justified her decision to free the imprisoned terrorists on her “fears” that the incoming Torrijos administration would eventually extradite them to Venezuela or Cuba where “they surely would have been killed.” However, in her haste, Moscoso obviously failed to take into account Havana’s previous pledges to not seek the death penalty and Venezuela’s constitutional prohibition on capital punishment – information to which she certainly would have been privy as her country’s head of state.
The failure of Moscoso’s flimsy explanation to pass even modest standards of scrutiny reeks of malfeasance and leaves little question that she has not been forthright with the Panamanian public or with the international community regarding her genuine motives and the dynamics behind her decision-making process regarding the pardons. Furthermore, Moscoso’s dubious decision to grant freedom to degenerate murderers begs the question of foreign involvement in the case and represents the grand finale to a morally bankrupt administration whose conduct further enlarged Panama’s unjustified fame as a “banana republic.”
Although Secretary of State Colin Powell has denied that the White House influenced Moscoso to pardon the convicted terrorists, informal contacts with U.S. officials or the lobbying arm of powerful Miami-based Cuban émigré groups cannot be completely ruled out. While not the damning evidence that Havana claims it to be, Moscoso’s recorded phone message to former U.S. ambassador to Panama, and prominent Cuban-American attorney, Simón Ferro, the same day she announced the pardons, does suggest that she and Ferro had previously discussed the issue. Ferro and the former Panamanian president must now clear the air and lay to rest the disturbing rumors and conspiracy theories that now circulate regarding the extent of her discussions with Ferro and the possibility of some form of quid pro quo arrangement with Miami that motivated her possibly less than “altruistic” concern for the lives of cold-blooded murderers.
Swing-State Politics vs. War on Terror
With the subject of terrorism weighing heavily on the American psyche, an investigation into how a supposed Washington lackey allowed four known terrorists to walk free, possibly at the behest of former U.S. officials, should be undertaken if the Bush administration is truly serious about combating terrorism in all its forms and at every level. Unfortunately, such action is not to be expected from Washington, for which turning a blind eye to the recurring unseemly activities of extremists among the Cuban émigré community, has become a time-honored tradition. Given Florida’s importance as a swing state in the upcoming presidential election, with both parties aggressively courting Cuban-American voters, any official White House condemnation of Moscoso’s disturbing eleventh-hour pardons is simply outlandish to even contemplate. The White House’s failure to officially condemn Moscoso’s decision to free degenerate thugs and its general lack of concern over her actions represent a blaring example of the double-standards and hypocrisy behind the righteous rhetoric of its so-called “War on Terror.” Sadly, the Bush administration’s willingness to overlook the terrorist activities of its own citizens abroad, while collectively reproaching any other government that does the same, will rob this country of the moral high ground it so terribly needs to effectively defeat global terrorism.
This analysis was prepared by Eric S. Lynn, COHA Research Associate.