Not even his hair dresser knows for sure.
Cuban exiles call him "Bambi." The regimes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez call him "the bin Laden of the Americas."
Heroic freedom fighter or heartless terrorist guilty of bombing a Cuban airlines flight -- 73 dead --, Cuban hotels and nightspots?
What is known is that Luis Posada Carriles, 83, spent most of his life combating the Castro regime and that he worked for the CIA.
Posada is presently on trial in El Paso, not for terrorism but perjury. He is accused of lying to U.S. emigration officials. On March 24, after 11 weeks and 23 witnesses, the U.S. government rested its case. Now it's Posada's turn. His defense team will attempt to refute the charges.
Those charges are grave. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that Posada was the "admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks." I'm not sure about admitted as being the final proof of anything; an admission sometimes turns out to be the ex post facto bookend to premeditation (see my post of January 25, this blog). Such "admissions" can be conscious, deliberate "Freudian slips" planted to germinate an open secret.
"Any day now, IT will start" -- open secrets are essential to any exile community; they pollinate morale, fertilize financial support. Unfortunately, they crowd out -- if not kill off -- beneficial growth.
So, let's look elsewhere than the Justice Department -- as well as the Cuban and Venezuelan governments -- to seek the truth about Luis Posada. Is he or isn't he a terrorist?
Our starting place is defining the word terrorist. Without an agreed upon definition -- even if only partial and provisional -- all further discussion is fruitless.
The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion presented a syndrome consisting of 12 elements:
A terrorist is most often a middle class rebel (1) experiencing magnified marginal and/or transitional conditions, who (2) voluntarily (3) goes through certain rites of passage, among which are (4) clique membership and (5) a deliberate decision to commit a criminal act which is almost always (6) violent and usually (7) murder, in (8) the name of higher intentions or convictions without (9) retaining consciously the ambiguity of his criminal act and his higher intentions/convictions. He manifests powerful, unconscious, ambivalent emotions in two ways: (10) converting his intentions/convictions into idées fixes or absolute truths, the opposite extreme from ambiguity, and (11) wielding uncertainty as a weapon. That uncertainty is total, as demonstrated by the fact that (12) everybody -- allies, non-combatants, even himself -- is a potential victim.
By not admitting what he cannot admit, the terrorist guards his secret, even from himself.
By not admitting what he is, the terrorist shows the gravity that admission holds for him. To my knowledge, no terrorist or other middle class rebel ever said what he is.
What he is, is the secret he keeps: he is a middle class rebel.
Let's run Luis Posada past the 12 checkpoints:
1. A middle class rebel experiencing magnified intermediate, marginal, and /or transitional conditions.
Everyone agrees Posada is a rebel. He has opposed Fidel Castro since 1960, against the wishes of his family. But is Posada middle class? In a must-read New York Times interview, he described himself as upper middle class; his father owned a bookstore and a printing press. Posada studied medicine and chemistry at the University of Havana, and worked as a supervisor for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
Sounds like a Main Streeter.
Posada is also "middle class" in the larger sense of the term, i.e., any intermediate/marginal/ transitional condition or status. His present legal quagmire is only the latest in a lifetime of limbos. Bay of Pigs invasion? Gangsters? Assassination of JFK? Iran Contra Affair? Cocaine and counterfeit money smuggler? Political prisoner? Successful CIA operative? Torturer and killer of political opponents in Central America? All those things and more have been said about him. Whatever the truth may be, you can't read about Posada without concluding he led an edgy life. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find anybody who has experienced more intermediate, transitional, and or marginal conditions.
Nomen est omen, the ancient Romans believed: names are omens. Posada in English is inn, a temporary residence. In Latin America, posada is also a Christmas time celebration of Mary's and Joseph's search for lodging. The very name, then, suggests transition, margin.
The freedom fighter-or-terrorist conundrum encapsulates Posada's ambiguous existence. He wrote in his autobiography, Los Caminos del Guerrero:
At one time, our American "friends" trained us in the use and handling of weapons, explosives and incendiary devices. Yesterday what was regarded as an act of courage and patriotism, so-called "action and sabotage," is now called "terrorism" and we are persecuted and jailed for these same acts.
Conclusion: neither rich nor poor, forever betwixt and between, Posada is solidly middle class. Let's move on.
Terrorist elements 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. A terrorist voluntarily goes through certain rites of passage, among them clique membership and committing a crime that is almost always violent, usually murder.
Here we enter unknown -- and perhaps unknowable -- territory. For what it's worth, I'll say here and now that I have never worked for the CIA or any other intelligence agency. Hence, I am reduced to the following speculation, pure and simple:
Elements 2 through 7 of the terrorist syndrome cannot be discounted in Posada's case. In the New York Times interview, he expanded on his Guerrero remark:
[Somewhere in the Florida Keys] the C.I.A. taught us everything -- everything ... They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage. When the Cubans were working for the C.I.A. they were called patriots. 'Acciones de sabotaje' was the term they used to classify this type of operation ... Now they call it terrorism. The times have changed. We were betrayed because Americans think like Americans.''
8. The terrorist commits his criminal acts in the name of higher intentions and convictions.
Posada is definitely high on high intentions:
Our dead, our prisoners, our families divided, our suffering brothers on the enslaved island, from their graves, from their jails, from their destroyed homes and subjected to hunger and oppression, they demand of us any kind of action against the tyrant and his nefarious gang.
We will continue our struggle until the end, no matter what the consequences. We will not give up. We will not negotiate with the murderous tyrant. We will achieve freedom, or perish in the attempt.
9. The terrorist is not conscious of the ambiguity between his criminal acts and his higher intentions/convictions.
Here we arrive at the pivotal point in our terrorist discussion:
On September 4, 1997, Fabio Di Celmo, an Italian businessman, was killed by a bomb in Cuba's Copacabana Hotel. When the New York Times asked about the incident, Posada swatted it like an annoying fly. Di Celmo, we learn, was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Did Posada plan the bombing? He is coy in his response; he has formally denied the legal charge, but hinted in the interview he was responsible. No better, clearer example of an open secret can be found anywhere.
What concerns us here is not Posada's guilt or innocence, but his gratuitous, often quoted declaration that whatever happened at the Copacabana, his conscience is clear: "I sleep like a baby." There is observable evidence (see below) he is telling the truth.
The terrorist's lack of awareness of any contradiction between his acts and his convictions must be highlighted ...
The French Resistance during World War II furnished a compelling basis for separating a terrorist from a freedom fighter. Marie-Louise Delecroix wrote of Rene Char, a major French Resistance fighter:
The exercise of thought is inherent to the action of resistance. In order not to be criminal acts, guerrilla operations must be accompanied with precise intentions and shared convictions. Even the very concept of resistance requires a rigorous adaptation of its meaning. (Quoted in The Source of Terrorism, p. 163.)
Rigorous adaptation. The adjustment of thought to action and vice-versa was never final in the French Resistance. The essential ambiguity surrounding crimes committed in the name of freedom, justice, and dignity was not denied, disowned, excused. The Resistance fighter did not escape the moral burden of his act by appealing to Self-Evident Truths or a Divine Law above human law. The ideals were there, but so was the burden. If you blew up a train transporting Nazi munitions and innocent people were killed, you killed innocent people: how do you live with that truth?
The terrorist, on the contrary, does not preserve in consciousness the ambiguity of his acts and intentions. He is honest consciousness personified, justice and justification confounded.
Simply put, the terrorist does not own what he is or what he has done, unlike the freedom fighter. The terrorist makes a decision and an evaluation once and for all; the freedom fighter continues making decisions, evaluations. It is precisely here that Posada's defense falters.
10. The terrorist's intentions and convictions are for him idees fixes, absolute truths outside time and space, above any and all questioning. The terrorist is past Othello; he is beyond Hamlet. Beyond any doubt, he does not suffer from doubt.
Posada is definitely a man with idees fixes, e.g., "All communists are the same. All are bad, a form of evil." In the logic of emotions of the middle class rebel, sooner or later he "realizes" that, given the absolute truths he is in tune with, the end justifies the means, viz., Castro's oppression is so horrendous, all Cubans have the right -- no matter what the consequences -- to oppose him, using violence and any method [sic] within our reach that contributes to the toppling of the nefarious system and leads to the freedom of our fatherland.
Elements 11 and 12. The terrorist wields absolute uncertainty as a weapon. Everybody -- including himself -- is a potential target.
By announcing he would achieve freedom for Cuba or die trying, Posada included himself and unspecified allies ("we") among the possible victims of his actions. But does his range truly extend to everybody? If asked point blank, he would no doubt exclude the U.S. government from his potential targets. The issue is not resolved, however. Look again at the message he tossed over the transom: We were betrayed because Americans think like Americans. O.K., is the U.S. a friend or foe? Another open secret.
Is Posada a terrorist? The ultimate answer -- as well as the ultimate outcome -- may have been revealed not in Posada's writings, interviews, or testimony, but in his physical attitude. It has been reported that he keeps falling asleep during his trial, occasionally snoring.
I sleep like a baby. Does Posada know something we do not? Something about civilized barbarians?
I fear that in the end we'll be handed another open secret -- that the final verdict will not be final. Bambi's revenge may turn out to be not anything Posada does, but rather something that does not happen. The beauty of it is -- for him at any rate -- to achieve it, he need not even lift his little finger, much less stay awake.