Cuban militant worked for U.S. in covert Contra supply network
05/30/05 "AP" - - MIAMI - Shortly after escaping from a Venezuelan prison twenty years ago, Luis Posada Carriles turned up as "Ramon Medina" at a Salvadoran airfield that was part of a secret White House project to funnel weapons to U.S.-backed Contra rebels waging war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
Posada's involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, detailed in U.S. government documents, is one of the lesser-known episodes of a lifetime of militancy against Cuban President Fidel Castro and other leftist Latin American governments. He once said he was waging "war without quarter" against those governments, which he viewed as communist.
Posada, 77, is now in U.S. custody in El Paso, Texas, facing deportation on charges of entering the United States illegally earlier this year. He is claiming U.S. residency status first gained in 1962 and political asylum, in part because of his past work for the CIA. Venezuela wants to extradite Posada for the prison escape, which came while he awaited a third trial in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people off Barbados.
An initial hearing for Posada on the immigration charges is set for June 13.
In 1985, Posada was deeply involved in the Reagan administration's attempt to topple the Soviet Union-leaning Sandinistas by selling weapons to Iran and using the money for the Contra rebels, according to the final Iran-Contra report issued by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh.
Using the "Ramon Medina" alias, Posada worked closely with another militant Cuban exile known as "Max Gomez" at the major Contra staging area at Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador. "Max Gomez" was actually Felix Rodriguez, a longtime CIA operative who took part in a 1967 operation in Bolivia that led to the capture and execution of Castro's revolutionary ally Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
"Posada needed a job, and Rodriguez had a destination," said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit organization at George Washington University that collects and publicizes government documents. "If Rodriguez is the CEO of the operation, Posada is the chief operating officer."
According to the Walsh report, Posada helped ensure proper distribution of some of the $6 million collected for the Contras by Lt. Col. Oliver North, a White House National Security Council aide who spearheaded the operation. The cash was brought to El Salvador from Miami by Southern Air Transport, an air cargo company that was actually a CIA front.
"Once the cash was delivered to Ilopango air base in El Salvador, fuel fund deposits were made by ... employees Luis Posada (alias Ramon Medina) and Felix Rodriguez (alias Max Gomez)," the Walsh report says.
As the Iran-Contra scheme began to unravel, a C-123 aircraft carrying weapons and supplies to the Contras was shot down in Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986. Two U.S. pilots were killed and a third crew member, Eugene Hasenfus, was captured after parachuting out.
Four days later, Hasenfus said publicly he had made 10 such flights - six out of Ilopango and four out of an air base in Honduras. He said that "Medina" and "Gomez," the alias names for Posada and Rodriguez, "oversaw the housing for the crews, transportation, refueling and flight plans."
At the time, however, their true identities were a mystery. At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 10, 1986, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., repeatedly pressed Reagan administration officials about Gomez's true identity and whether he reported directly to then-Vice President George Bush.
Clair George, then head of CIA clandestine operations, responded that he did not know of any direct connection to Bush but added that Gomez is "one of two names that Mr. Hasenfus said were the two CIA men who were running this whole thing."
George was convicted in 1992 of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra but was pardoned along with other key figures by President Bush on Christmas Eve that same year.
After the Hasenfus plane was shot down, the end was near for the Ilopango air base. A top Salvadoran official ordered the resupply crews to leave the country, and the planes were taken to Honduras.
It was left to Posada to close up shop.
According to the Walsh report, Posada "cleaned out the houses where resupply personnel had stayed" and delivered documents to U.S. officials. "Posada also terminated the operation's leases, paid the bills and disposed of radio equipment, cars and other goods," the report says.
Rodriguez is now retired and living in Miami but has an unlisted number and could not be reached for comment for this story. In a 1989 book detailing his CIA adventures, "Shadow Warrior," Rodriguez contends that Venezuela blamed the 1976 Cuban airliner bombing on Posada because Posada - at one time a Venezuelan security official - possessed "some juicy tapes" of a former Venezuelan president talking with his girlfriend.
After his Iran-Contra duties in 1990, Posada was shot and wounded by unknown gunmen in Guatemala. Cuba blames him for a string of 1997 bombings in Cuba, one of which killed an Italian tourist. Posada was jailed in Panama in 2000 for an alleged plot to assassinate Castro during a conference, but he was pardoned last August by Panama's outgoing president.
Then in March, Posada surfaced in Miami after crossing the U.S. border with Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.
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