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Chavez urges Obama to hand over Cuban exile

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez campaigns for the 'Yes' option in the southern state of Bolivar January 30, 2009. REUTERS/PSUV/Handout

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged U.S. President Barack Obama to extradite an anti-Castro Cuban exile wanted in Venezuela who the administration of George W. Bush had refused to hand over.

Extradition of former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jet that killed 73 people, could improve bilateral ties that have for years been frayed by a war of words between the Bush administration and Venezuela.

“Send us the terrorist Posada Carriles,” Chavez said in a televised speech late on Friday. “We’ve been waiting four years for the extradition of the biggest terrorist in human history.”

The Bush administration had refused to hand over Posada after he was arrested in the United States for entering the country illegally, sparking harsh criticism of a double standard in Washington’s war on terror.

Posada, who was involved in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was jailed for two years in Texas on immigration charges but released in 2007. He now lives in Miami.

Posada also is accused in Cuba of plotting 1997 hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist.

Chavez, whose country provides some 12 percent of U.S. oil imports, was a harsh critic of former President George W. Bush. He has accused Obama of repeating the same policies, although he recently applauded Obama’s decision to shut the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He also has urged Obama to lift the U.S. embargo of Cuba and return Guantanamo Bay, which the United States has rented since the early 20th century.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bill Trott