‘The Bush administration doesn’t know how to get out of this tangled and embarrassing situation,” Fidel Castro said May 1. “While they have been playing with terrorism, fomenting it, supporting it and nurturing it, it comes as no surprise that they now have a time bomb on their hands.”

Castro was speaking about Luis Posada Carriles, the anti-Cuban terrorist who entered the United States illegally in March and has been living in Florida ever since. On May 17, the same day that 1.2 million Cubans marched in Havana to protest his coddling by the Bush administration, U.S. officials felt compelled to arrest the 77-year-old former CIA agent. What happens next is unclear.

Until May 17, Homeland Security — with 180,000 people, 15 intelligence services and billions of dollars at its disposal — apparently was no match for an individual the Cubans regard as “Latin America’s Osama bin Laden.”

On May 13 Venezuela officially requested Posada’s extradition, so that judicial proceedings interrupted by his 1985 escape from jail, aided by the CIA, could be resumed. As a Venezuelan intelligence operative, Posada had planned a 1976 bomb attack that downed a Cubana airliner, killing 73. In 1997 he organized hotel bombings in Havana, and three years later he and three associates tried to assassinate Castro.

The Bush administration faced a rising tide of opposition to its protection of a terrorist in the midst of its own “war on terror.” Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon pointed out in a recent interview that 34,000 political refugees are incarcerated in U.S. prisons while their pleas for asylum are being processed. But Posada, a terrorist seeking sanctuary, was still free.

A front-page May 1 New York Times story described Posada’s life under a charitable subheading: “Old Cold Warrior, Out of Friends, Seeks Asylum.” The next day, a Times editorial joined a growing chorus calling for his arrest and extradition, although it suggested that Posada be tried in a European nation or by the International Criminal Court.

Cuba has said it has no interest in prosecuting Posada. Its leaders point out that the nations whose citizens were killed in the 1976 airplane bombing agreed then that the terrorist should be returned to Venezuela for trial.

On May 10, George Washington University’s National Security Archives released declassified FBI files that document Posada’s involvement not only with the airplane bombing, but also with the assassination in Washington two weeks earlier of the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronni Moffitt. The files also highlight Posada’s CIA contacts.

As evidence mounts of Posada’s history of violent crime, the international Agreement on Torture, signed by the United States in 1999, could apply in this case, said Cuban American lawyer José Pertierra. That treaty stipulates that torturers do not qualify for legal protection.

As Venezuela submitted its request for extradition, Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, appeared at a National Press Club press conference calling for Posada’s arrest and extradition. As a measure of official concern about Posada’s stay in Florida, a Newsweek reporter cited briefings on the case for the Homeland Security director and monitoring by the National Security Council.

The massive demonstration in Havana May 17 marched past the U.S. Interests Section, protesting U.S. inaction regarding Posada, terrorism against Cuba, and the Iraq war.