MIAMI – A Cuban militant whose presence in the United States opened the government to allegations it was sheltering a terrorist was charged Thursday with entering this country illegally — a move that could lead to his deportation.
Luis Posada Carriles (search) is wanted in Venezuela in connection with the deadly 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.
The United States did not immediately say whether it actually plans to deport Posada, or where. But U.S. authorities have essentially ruled out sending him back to Venezuela, where the bombing plot was allegedly hatched, and could instead choose a third country that has no intention of prosecuting him.
"Everything is on the table," said Posada's lawyer, Eduardo Soto.
Posada, 77, will be held without bail at a federal lockup in El Paso, Texas, for a hearing before an immigration judge June 13, officials said. Soto said Posada will ask to be released on bail.
The case has put the U.S. in an awkward position because Cuba's Fidel Castro (search) has branded Posada a terrorist and said the Bush administration would be guilty of a double standard in the war on terrorism if it gave Posada asylum.
Posada is a former CIA operative and bitter opponent of Castro but has denied taking part in the downing of a Cuban jetliner off the coast of Barbados that killed 73 people. Recently declassified FBI documents quote informants as saying Posada was deeply involved in the planning.
Posada has acknowledged entering the United States secretly through Mexico in mid-March. He was seized by U.S. immigration agents in Miami on Tuesday, shortly after surfacing to meet with reporters.
His lawyer said Posada would "vigorously oppose" deportation. Soto said Posada will claim that he never lost permanent U.S. legal residency, originally gained in October 1962 — during the Cuban missile crisis — and that he should be given political asylum in the United States because of his anti-Castro views, his history as a CIA operative and the risk of persecution from both Cuba and Venezuela.
"I believe he is legally in this country now," Soto told reporters.
The lawyer said that it could take months or even years before a final decision is made on Posada's fate. "You could be looking at a two-year process," he said.
Soto left open the possibility that Posada would agree to depart for a third country if a friendly nation could be found.
The lawyer also said that Posada will ask that the immigration proceedings be moved from Texas to Miami, where Posada has a wife and a 29-year-old son.
Posada was acquitted after two trials in Venezuela, then escaped from a prison there in 1985 while awaiting a prosecutor's appeal. Venezuela has requested his extradition.
But U.S. officials have said they will not send anyone to a country that it believes is doing Cuba's bidding. Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) are close allies.
Castro has repeatedly renounced Cuba's right to try Posada and has instead argued that he should be turned over to Venezuela or an international tribunal.
Posada has also been linked to a series of 1997 bombings in Cuba that killed an Italian tourist.