From Tue Dec 10 07:30:20 2002
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 09:41:10 -0600 (CST)
From: Eric Jackson <>
Subject: Re: Miami Cubans vs Panamanian Left
Article: 148132
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Miami Cubans vs Panamanian Left

By Eric Jackson, 9 December 2002

But for the fact that my mind, along with those of everyone in attendance I would suppose, is sort of fried. It was a truly bizarre scene, about an absolutely serious subject.

Much circumstantial evidence exists that the defendants intended to set off more than 30 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive, with shrapnel, in a University of Panama auditorium where Fidel Castro spoke to some 1,500 people.

In the highly politicized Panamanian legal system, the Christian Democrat prosecutors took a dive on the investigation and the courts threw out the charge of plotting to kill Castro, but the explosives possession and conspiracy to possess explosives and some minor immigration charges about entering Panama under a false name are pending.

But in Panama, private parties can hire private prosecutors specifically because prosecutors so notoriously take dives. In this case, the labor unions, student radical groups and Kuna General Congress, who were Castro's hosts at the university, are demanding their right to press attempted murder charges because even if the plot to kill Castro got tossed by the Supreme Court, what seemed to be planned would have killed a lot of other people as well. That was the procedural rumble that got the appeals court to order the trial's suspension this afternoon.

But then, these defendants have been in jail for more than two years while such procedural squabbling has been running its course. What if they're innocent? They haven't been proven guilty.

And meanwhile, Posada is a prison escapee wanted by Venezuela, and wanted for 74 counts of murder in Cuba. Basically he's accused of playing a role in the placing of a bomb on a Cubana airliner in 1976, which blew up over the ocean near Barbados killing all 73 aboard (including the Cuban fencing team). After that, Posada Carriles worked for the Venezuelan intelligence service, but then was busted, twice tried and provisionally absolved, but twice those dismissals were overturned on the prosecutors' appeals and he escaped while awaiting a third trial. Then in the late 90s, it is alleged by Cuba that Posada Carriles, from El Salvador, masterminded a series of tourist hotel bombings in which a young Italian man was killed. Fidel wants to see this guy shot.

But the argument today was about which criminal procedure code sections apply to what. Finally the judge ruled that the trial should proceed, and in the reading of the dossier it seemed that the case wasn't airtight and moreover it was obvious that the police and prosecutors have run a lazy and incompetent investigation. (For one of several examples, when dealing with experienced bomb makers, you get a signature that was not at all looked into in this case. For another, it seems that nobody did any of the common tests to see if any of the defendants had been handling explosives in the few days before their arrest.)

So what I got was not a verdict to report, but a good look into the problems of Panama's legal system in a high-profile international case.

(My political sympathies are not with Mr. Posada Carriles, but I'm against the death penalty and I think that the defendants and their families have good reason to be offended by the slow legal system here. I also think that courts and prosecutors who pay attention to a famous guy who might have been killed and ignore the possibility that non-famous people would have been killed in the process are also wearing their despicable social prejudices on their sleeves. I have friends who could have been killed at that event. Thus I come away from today's proceedings with very mixed feelings.)


Eric Jackson <> wrote:

Just came back from spending the day at an inconclusive terrorism trial. Miami Cubans vs. the Panamanian left, with prosecutors who would be potted plants but for their occasional obsequious whines, bewildered alleged terrorist defendants, pissed-off Cuban diplomats and a mob of lawyers arguing procedure.

Anyway, it looks like Mr. Posada Carriles won't be out of the slammer by Christmas, but we might be surprised yet.

Read all about it on the night of December 15 or afterwards, when the next issue of The Panama News appears.