A two-and-a-half hour speech Saturday night by Cuban President Fidel Castro was the final salvo fired in an international conference that accused the United States of hypocrisy in the fight against terrorism.
"The empire has to be forced to hand over its henchmen, to comply with treaties, with U.N. and bilateral accords and those with the nations of the Caribbean, that it hand over the criminals," Castro declared, referring to Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA-trained Cuban exile wanted in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cubana commercial jet that killed all 73 on board.
Castro wants Posada tried for that and a series of Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. In a 1998 interview with the New York Times, Posada said he was behind the hotel explosions.
Venezuela is demanding that Posada be extradited to Caracas, where there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Posada escaped from prison there while awaiting a third trial in the jetliner bombing. He was acquitted twice, in what several observers have described as corrupt proceedings. They claim Posada's close ties his former employer, the Venezuelan security services, played an influential role in his acquittals.
The Caribbean foreign ministers have also called on the United States to help bring Posada to justice. The Cubana jet exploded right after takeoff from Barbados. Posada, they said, is "the primary suspect" in "the most horrific act of terrorism ever experienced by the countries" of the Caribbean.
The Havana conference was part of Cuba's campaign to focus media attention on Posada, who is currently being held by federal authorities in El Paso, Texas, while awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge on June 13th. Posada, who is on a U.S. terrorist watch list, illegally slipped into the United States nearly two months before being picked up by authorities in Miami May 1.
Castro delivered some 20 speeches in less than a month demanding that the Bush administration find and arrest Posada, but Washington expressed skepticism about his presence in the country, that is, until Posada began giving interviews to the Miami press.
This case has the United States in a bind, Castro said at the conference closing, but "we have to demand that they talk, that they explain, that they say how he entered [the country] and then we'll know a whole lot of things."
His remarks drew repeated applause from some five hundred left-leaning academics, political figures and activists from more than 60 countries who heeded Castro's hastily issued invitation to the three-day event.