Friday, July 04, 2008

Panama could seek extradition of anti-Castro plotter

by Andrew Beatty PANAMA CITY Panama could request the extradition from the United States of exiled anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles after overturning a pardon that freed him from jail, a Panamanian official said on Wednesday. Panama's Supreme Court ruled this week that a 2004 pardon of Posada and three other Cubans involved in a plot to blow up former Cuban President Fidel Castro at a summit in Panama was unconstitutional. Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro said the Panamanian government would request their extradition if the judiciary asked it to. "If it is requested by the judicial branch, we will start the process, whether it be extradition or another process, depending on what (they) ask for," he told reporters. The Supreme Court will not recommend extradition in its written ruling, a court spokesperson said on Wednesday, but the public prosecutor's office said it could do so once it has studied the court's text. The public prosecutor's office was expected to receive the ruling later on Wednesday and make its own recommendation, spokesman Jose Oro told Reuters. Posada, a former CIA operative who has been linked to a string of anti-communist plots, and the three other men were arrested in Panama in 2000 over a plot to assassinate Castro during an Ibero-American summit. They were pardoned by Panama's U.S.-friendly President Mireya Moscoso before she left office in 2004, but the move was criticized by many as being politically motivated and sparked a major diplomatic spat with Cuba and Venezuela. In a mainly symbolic ruling on a case brought by a former state prosecutor on technicalities, Panama's Supreme Court reversed pardons on sentences on 183 people, including the four Cuban activists, late on Monday. Posada - who was trained by the CIA for the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Castro and is also accused by Havana of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 people - is currently living in Florida. He was released in April 2007 from U.S. custody, where he had been since May 2005 after entering the country illegally and seeking asylum.

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