Texas Posada's past an issue in immigration fraud case Defense wants to raise questions about Cuba's credibility; judge to decide

By Will Weissert

Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- Elderly ex-CIA operative and Fidel Castro nemesis Luis Posada Carriles is in federal court on trial for perjury and immigration fraud -- not the decades he spent as a Washington-backed cold warrior. But his violent past, and America's frigid relations with its communist neighbor, are nonetheless dominating the proceedings.

The 82-year-old Posada is public enemy No. 1 in Cuba, but he faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and naturalization fraud in this country. He is accused of making false statements during immigration interviews in 2005 in El Paso about how he got into the U.S. and about his role in a string of 1997 bombings that rocked Havana hotels and killed an Italian tourist.

Posada's lead attorney, Arturo Hernandez, said he intended to raise questions about the Castro government's propensity for stretching historical facts in his opening statement, but prosecutors filed a motion arguing that Cuba's credibility was not pertinent.

U.S .District Judge Kathleen Cardone ruled that some of what Hernandez wanted to say was irrelevant, but has yet to make a full ruling.

"This is a case about lying but it's also a case about where the evidence is coming from to show that lie," Hernandez said. "I have a right to prove the Cuban government's motive to fabricate."

He said he will "demonstrate the long-lasting, long-existing bias of the Cuban government toward my client."

Lead prosecutor Timothy Reardon responded, "This is not the History Channel. The regime in Cuba is not the defendant."

Cardone said she will consider a written response from Hernandez early Wednesday, then rule on the government's motion before opening arguments.

Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Both governments also say Posada was behind the 1997 Havana hotel attacks.

The U.S. is not trying Posada on either matter, however, sticking only to immigration charges. Also, an immigration judge has previously ruled he cannot be deported to Venezuela or Cuba for fear he could be tortured.

Posada said he was brought across the U.S. border into Texas by a smuggler, but prosecutors allege he sailed from Mexico to Florida. In recent interviews with The Associated Press in Miami, where he lived with family while awaiting trial, he did not deny the prosecutors' account of how he reached U.S. soil five years ago, but he has pleaded not guilty.

The list of those who may testify includes two police officers who will travel to Texas from Cuba and the forensic expert who performed an autopsy on Fabio Di Celmo, the Italian who was killed in a bomb blast at Havana's Copacabana Hotel.

Posada was born in Cuba but left after Castro came to power in 1959. In the 1980s, he was acquitted in Venezuela of the 1976 airliner bombing, then escaped from prison while awaiting a government appeal.

He was convicted in Panama in a 2000 attempt to assassinate Castro there but received a presidential pardon in 2005. That March, his lawyer said Posada had come to Miami and was seeking political asylum.

Under international pressure for harboring an accused terrorist, U.S. authorities arrested Posada in May 2005. A federal grand jury indicted him in the immigration fraud case in January 2007.

Published: Thu, Jan 13, 2011