On Aug. 26, Mireya Moscoso, not quite done with her term as president of Panama, pardoned four jailed terrorists. To the cheers and warm embraces of hundreds of like-minded Floridians, three well-known criminals returned home to U.S. soil, the very home, of course, of war against terrorism. Apparently the other released prisoner, Luis Posada Carriles, not a U.S. citizen, was dropped off in Honduras.

The quartet was arrested in Panama City in late 2000 and charged with preparing to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro while he was attending an Ibero-American Summit. Panamanian police found 33 pounds of explosives in their possession and lots of guns. Convicted in April 2004 for “endangering public safety and falsifying documents” in a plot that could have killed Castro and hundreds of students at the University of Panama in a big explosion, they were each sentenced to seven to eight years in jail.

Under Panamanian law, pardons may not be granted until any remaining judicial proceedings have been completed. An appeals process had still been in the works when the prisoners were set free. There is speculation that Colin Powell’s recent visit to Panama may have had something to do with the pardons.

Cuba broke off diplomatic relations with Panama Aug. 26 and Venezuela has withdrawn its ambassador. President-elect Martin Torrijos has announced that he will try to repair relations with Cuba. Panamanian students and labor activists have been protesting the release.

The freed prisoners have a long history of terrorist activity. Posada Carriles was CIA-trained, involved with the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976 that killed 73 people, and associated with Oliver North in supplying the Nicaraguan Contras. He told the New York Times that he was responsible for a 1997 series of bombings in Havana.

Gaspar Jiménez served six years in a Mexican prison for the attempted kidnapping of a Cuban diplomat and the death of his bodyguard. He escaped to safety in Florida. He was also charged in a 1976 bombing attack on Miami radio announcer Emilio Milián, who lost his legs.

Pedro Remón went to jail in 1986 for trying to kill a Cuban UN diplomat and for helping out with the murder of Félix García Rodríguez, another Cuban UN official.

Guillermo Novo was tried for his part in the 1976 murder in Washington of the former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier. He won an appeal of his murder conviction, but, convicted of perjury, he spent four years in jail.

Julia E. Sweig, a Cuba expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, comments, “These are bad guys. … It is the most preposterous violation of what this administration stands for.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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