Informant faces defense in Cuban militant’s trial
EL PASO, Texas—An ex-CIA operative accused of lying during federal immigration hearings was worried even as he sneaked into the U.S. that interviews he gave to The New York Times on bombings in Cuba would cause problems for him with American authorities, according to a top prosecution witness.
Cuba native Luis Posada Carriles, 82, has been Fidel Castro’s nemesis and spent a lifetime using violence to destabilize communist political systems, but he is not on trial for his Cold War past. Instead, he faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud for allegedly lying during immigration hearings about how he sneaked into the U.S. in 2005 and for failing to acknowledge his role in 1997 bombings of Havana hotels and a tourist restaurant that killed an Italian tourist.
Posada claimed responsibility for those bombings in 1998 interviews with The New York Times. Posada has since recanted those comments.
Government informant Gilberto Abascal, also a Cuba native, testified Tuesday that it was those interviews that Posada was concerned as he headed to the U.S. in March 2005. Abascal also testified that Posada came into the U.S. by traveling aboard a yacht from Isla Mujeres, near the Mexican resort of Cancun, to Florida—testimony that contradicted Posada’s account to immigration officials that he paid a people smuggler to drive him from Honduras to Houston.
Abascal said the yacht owner, longtime Posada financial backer Santiago Alvarez,
told Posada, “What’s going to hurt you with the government is what you told the reporter,” referring to Times journalist Ann Louise Bardach. Alvarez and Posada also both referred to the interview as “the only thing” Posada would have to worry about with U.S. authorities, Abascal said.
Abascal was expected to be back on the witness stand Wednesday to face more questions from Posada attorney Arturo Hernandez, who already got him to admit that he went years without paying federal income taxes in the U.S. and then lied about it on official forms—effectively committing perjury.
“I apologize. I have made thousands of errors and I am not perfect,” replied Abascal, who has been feeding the FBI information since 1999 and been paid for it since July 2005.
Abascal is the only witness who places Posada on the yacht as it sailed from Isla Mujeres to Miami. Posada admits making contact with the yacht in Isla Mujeres, but says he did so only to pick up cash. Alvarez and others said to have been aboard have been jailed for refusing to testify against Posada.
Abascal said that once Posada landed, Alvarez ordered another passenger, Ruben Lopez Castro, to travel to the Texas border, reserve a hotel room in Posada’s name and purchase a false bus ticket from Houston to Miami. He also said Alvarez told the group that if asked about the boating trip, they should say it was to give Posada $10,000 to finance his trip over the U.S. border by land.
Posada is public enemy No. 1 in Cuba, even featured on propaganda billboards. He participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion, though he was not one of the invaders who made it to Cuban soil. In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed “contra” rebels in Nicaragua.
Posada was arrested in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a visit there in 2000. He went to prison before being pardoned.
Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada not only of the 1997 bombings, but also of organizing an explosion aboard a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73 people. A U.S. immigration judge has previously ruled he can’t be deported to either country because of fears of torture.