http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/miami/sfl-dposada24may24,0,2364147.story?coll=sfla-news-miami

Exiles back Cuban militant on asylum bid, poll shows

By Madeline Baró Diaz . M iami Bureau

May 24, 2005

Despite accusations that Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles has carried out deadly attacks in his four-decade battle against President Fidel Castro's government, most Cuban exiles in South Florida think he is a patriot who deserves political asylum in the United States, according to a poll to be released today.

The poll of 300 Cuban-born people in Miami-Dade and Broward counties was conducted May 13-22 by Bendixen & Associates, which asked respondents about their views on Posada.

More than 60 percent said they had a positive view of the aging exile and former CIA operative who has been accused of a number of violent acts, but they also said they preferred that a future transition to democracy in Cuba be peaceful rather than violent.

The poll's margin of error was 6 percent.

"Cuban exiles have a very different point of view toward transition in Cuba than they did 10 or more years ago," pollster Sergio Bendixen said. "They do not support the violent acts of the past, but they feel that when [Posada] was carrying out his activities, he was working for Cuba's freedom and for a country that supported those acts."

Immigration authorities arrested Posada last week and charged him with entering the country illegally through the Texas-Mexico border.

Posada had spent almost two months in hiding in the Miami area and applied for political asylum. But he withdrew his asylum petition and was trying to leave the country when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents caught up with him.

Posada, 77, awaits an immigration arraignment next month in El Paso, Texas.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government is asking the United States to extradite him to stand trial again in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner off the coast of Barbados. All 73 people on board were killed.

Venezuelan courts twice acquitted him of the charges. Posada, who has said he is innocent, escaped prison while awaiting a third trial on a prosecutor's appeal.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has said his country would reconsider its diplomatic ties with Washington if the United States does not extradite Posada.

Julio Cesar Castañeda, 76, a poll respondent who has lived in the United States for 31 years, said he thought Posada was innocent of the airline bombing and had been a victim of a negative media campaign.

"This gentleman is a fighter," Castañeda, of Miami, said. "I do not believe he is a saint, but I also do not believe he is a terrorist."

Castañeda, who said the time for violent action against Castro's government had passed, also predicted a transition to democracy in Cuba will be a gradual process.

"We have two generations of people who have been told what to think," Castañeda said. "They have to understand there are other values ... If that does not happen, it's going to be another Iraq, in the sense that no one over there is going to be in favor of [the transition]. There will be no political stability."

Bendixen's poll found significant differences in how people of different ages and who came to the United States during different eras think about Posada.

Among respondents age 50 and older, 73 percent said they thought Posada was a patriot and deserved asylum.

Among those younger than 50, only 39 percent said they considered him a patriot and 47 percent backed political asylum for him.

Among Cuban exiles who arrived before 1980, usually considered the "historical exiles" who came to the United States as political refugees, 78 percent called Posada a patriot and 75 percent advocated asylum.

Among those who arrived in the decades since, many of whom came for economic reasons and maintain closer ties to their families in Cuba, 50 percent said Posada was a patriot and 57 percent said he should receive asylum.

Although the poll did not go into details about Posada's alleged crimes, Bendixen said it was unlikely respondents did not know about Posada's past.

"I don't think there's any way anybody that lives in Miami or Broward, considering the coverage this gentleman has received on television, on the radio and in the newspapers, would doubt that he has been involved in many violent acts," he said.

Elena Freyre, executive director of the Cuban-American Defense League, said she was surprised by the support for Posada, considering exiles have been low-key about supporting him.

She criticized the "romanticized" notion some Cuban-Americans hold of Posada and said she has no doubt he is a terrorist.

"They are romanticizing this idea that this is part of an armed struggle that brave and valiant men carry out and there's nothing brave or valiant about someone who's a terrorist," she said.

Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at mbaro@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5007.

Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel



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