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Venezuela expresses indignation at Cuban exile's acquittal

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Venezuela has been trying to seek Posada's extradition in an airliner bombing case
  • U.S. courts have declined to extradite him, citing his fear of being tortured
  • He is cleared of charges of lying to U.S. immigration officials
  • Witnesses say they are not surprised by the verdict

(CNN) -- Venezuela has dismissed as "farce" a Texas jury's decision to acquit Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles on charges of lying to U.S. immigration officials.

The jury in El Paso found Carriles not guilty Friday. He was charged with 11 counts of lying to officials about how he entered the United States in 2005 and his alleged involvement in attacks on Cuba. If convicted, he would have faced between five and eight years in prison.

Venezuela has been trying to seek Posada's extradition in an airliner bombing case.

So far, U.S. courts have declined to extradite Posada, citing his fear of being tortured in Venezuela.

"The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, expressing the feeling of its people, strongly states its indignation for the farce staged in El Paso, Texas, for continuing to protect terrorist Luis Posada Carriles," the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington said late Friday.

"He was accused and now declared innocent in the trial for the unusual criminal charges of obstruction of justice and illegal immigration, when in fact his guilt has to do with proven terrorist acts."

The bomb exploded shortly after Cubana Flight 455 took off from Barbados, killing all 73 passengers and crew aboard.

After the crash, Posada was arrested and tried in Venezuela, where he had worked for the country's intelligence services.

While awaiting trial he escaped from jail.

"The U.S. government protection of Posada Carriles has become an emblematic case of the U.S. double standard in the international fight against terrorism," the embassy said in its statement.

The Venezuelan government will summon the Charge d'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas on Monday to reiterate its demand for Posada's extradition.

"Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist, a fugitive of the Venezuelan justice system," the statement said. "The U.S. government has no other alternative than fulfilling its international obligations, since otherwise it would be once again responsible for abetting terrorism."

Posada is accused by the Cuban government of blowing up a commercial airliner, masterminding a bombing campaign of Havana tourist attractions and attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In 2005, he was arrested by Homeland Security agents after giving a press conference in Miami in which he denied involvement in the 1976 airline bombing or targeting civilians in his war against the Cuban government.

Initially, he was charged with entering the United States illegally, but federal prosecutors later indicted Posada for lying to immigration officials about his alleged involvement in a series of bombings in Havana in 1997.

In 1998, Posada admitted to The New York Times' that he had dispatched a group of operatives to Cuba to set off bombs in hotels and restaurants in the hope of ruining the island's tourism industry. An Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, was killed in one of the blasts.

"It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop," Posada told the newspaper. "That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Asked if he felt remorse, Posada told the paper, "I sleep like a baby."

Several of those operatives were captured in Cuba and implicated Posada during their trials, according to Cuban government media reports and video, shown on the island, of the men's testimony.

In court filings, Posada's attorneys argued that his English was too poor to understand the reporter's questions.

That Posada was found not guilty is not a surprise, said Otto Reich, a former diplomat who was a defense witness at Posada's trial. He said the government did not present a good case.

Journalist Ann Louise Bardach, the prosecution's lead witness who spent six days on the stand, also said the government failed to do a good job.

"I'm not too surprised because of the way the case was handled," she said about the verdict.

CNN's Arthur Brice and Dave Alsup contribued to this report.