Witness: Cuban militant worried about interview
by Will Weissert
EL PASO, Texas -- Even while sneaking into the U.S. illegally aboard a yacht, an ex-CIA operative was more worried an interview with the New York Times on bombings in Havana would damage his standing with American authorities, a top prosecution witness testified Tuesday.
Government informant Gilberto Abascal testified for a second day in the trial of Luis Posada Carriles, an 82-year-old who has been Fidel Castro's nemesis and spent a lifetime using violence to destabilize communist political systems. Posada, however, is not on trial for his Cold War past. Instead, he faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud for lying during immigration hearings about how he reached the U.S. in 2005.
Abascal said a former shrimp boat converted into a 90-foot pleasure boat brought Posada up the Miami River in March 2005 and that Posada then used a 25-foot speed boat to get off and land at waterfront restaurant before those on the converted yacht reported to U.S. Customs.
The operation went smoothly - even though the Miami police chief happened to be eating at the restaurant where Posada landed, Abascal said.
But he also said Posada and the yacht's owner discussed concerns about Posada's 1998 interview with the New York Times on bombings at Havana hotels and a tourist restaurant in 1997. An Italian tourist was killed in the attacks.
Abascal said the owner of the yacht, Santiago Alvarez, told Posada, "what's going to hurt you with the government is what you told the reporter."
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.
The Times articles quote Posada as saying the hotel bombings were meant to scare tourists and hurt Cuban tourism, but the death of the Italian was an accident. Posada has since recanted those comments.
Prosecutors have been questioning Abascal about Posada's journey to the U.S. Posada told U.S. immigration officials under oath that he paid a people smuggler to drive him from Honduras to Houston. But prosecutors say he traveled aboard Alvarez's yacht from Isla Mujeres, near the Mexican resort of Cancun, to Florida.
Abascal served as the yacht's mechanic and is the only witness to place Posada aboard - Alvarez and others who were said to have made the trip with Posada have been jailed intermittently since 2005 for refusing to testify against him.
Also a Cuba native, Abascal, 45, is a longtime informant who began speaking to the FBI in 1999. Still, he first told investigators that Posada was not aboard the yacht, only changing his story during a third meeting in June 2005. He said that was when he finally told the truth.
As a way of confirming his story, he said Posada, who paints as a hobby, gave everyone on the yacht a framed copy of a painting of the Havana waterfront. But Abascal also said he gave Posada's painting away after the first meeting with the FBI, afraid it would incriminate him.
Posada's defense team attempted to discredit Abascal by noting he went several years without paying federal income taxes and then lied about it. They also say the U.S. government has paid him $150,000 for information since 2005, giving him motivation to tell lies about Posada.
On cross examination late Tuesday, Posada's chief attorney, Arturo Hernandez, showed a U.S. immigration document in which Abascal claimed not to have paid taxes in 2005 because he earned less than $10,000 for the year. He actually took home far more in undeclared income.
"Didn't you commit perjury when you signed and swore you had paid taxes in 2005 when you didn't?" Hernandez asked of the signed immigration document.
"I said I made a mistake. You keep asking me the same questions and I keep answering them," Abascal replied.
Hernandez also produced an affidavit in which Abascal claimed to have just $1,000 in assets in 2005 - even though he co-owned a Florida chicken farm that had earned him $100,000.
"I apologize. I have made thousands of errors and I am not perfect," the witness replied.
Posada participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion, though he was not one of the fighters who made it to Cuban soil. In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed "contra" rebels in Nicaragua. Posada also was arrested in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a visit there in 2000. He went to prison, but eventually received a presidential pardon - then turned up in the U.S. and sought asylum, prompting the current charges against him.
Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada not only of the 1997 Cuban hotel bombings but also in a 1976 explosion aboard a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. A U.S. immigration judge has previously ruled Posada can't be deported to either country because of fears of torture.
Witness: Posada docked at restaurant as top lawman ate
by Juan O. Tamayo
EL PASO, Texas -- It was a secret operation to smuggle exile militant Luis Posada Carriles from Mexico to Miami by sea. But when he finally docked at a Miami River restaurant, who should be eating there but a senior police official.
That's what Gilberto Abascal, a crewman on the ship that he says smuggled Posada into Miami, testified Tuesday at the trial of the accused bomber and former CIA asset.
Abascal did not identify the restaurant or the policeman, and did not say whether the official recognized Posada during the million-to-one chance encounter.
The short and barrel-chested Abascal, 45, is the key prosecution witness on the charges that Posada lied under oath when he told U.S. immigration officials that he was smuggled from Mexico to Texas.
His detailed testimony about the Miami arrival came after U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone allowed prosecutors to ask him questions, previously ruled out, about the secret ``conspiracy'' to smuggle Posada into the United States.
Abascal testified he was a crewman aboard the 90-foot Santrina, a converted shrimper, when it picked up Posada in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and sailed him to Miami in 2005.
When the ship arrived in Miami, he added, owner Santiago Alvarez, a Cuban-born real estate developer, docked it on the Miami River and offloaded a 25-30 foot boat into the water.
Posada and Cuban exile Ruben Lopez Castro boarded the smaller boat and headed for a restaurant on the river where Alvarez's son, also named Santiago, was waiting to receive Posada and drive him away in a car, Abascal testified.
But when Lopez Castro returned to the Santrina later, he was shaken, Abascal added. ``Oh my God!,'' he declared, ``The head of the police was in the restaurant.''
There are two well-known restaurants with docks right on the Miami River, and both are frequented by Miami leaders. One is named Joe Garcia's. The other is named Casablanca.
Revelan en El Paso detalles de la llegada de Luis Posada Carriles a Miami
por José Pertierra
La jueza Kathleen Cardone permitió esta mañana que el testigo Gilberto Abascal contara al jurado detalles de la travesía en el barco que llevó a Luis Posada Carriles desde Isla Mujeres a Miami, prueba crucial de que el terrorista mintió a las autoridades migratorias acerca de cómo ingresó a los Estados Unidos.
Posada Carriles había afirmado que entró en ómnibus a través de la frontera, con la ayuda de un traficante de personas. Sin embargo, el gobierno norteamericano asegura que lo hizo en el barco camaronero transformado en yate, el Santrina, propiedad del amigo y financista de Posada, Santiago Álvarez Fernández Magriñá.
La Jueza concedió a la Fiscalía que su testigo, informante del FBI, contara las conversaciones que sostuvo durante la travesía en el Santrina en el viaje a Isla Mujeres, confirmó a Cubadebate el abogado José Pertierra, quien se encuentra en El Paso.
Según Pertierra, Gilberto Abascal hizo las siguientes declaraciones importantes:
“Santiago Alvarez nos juntó en el comedor del barco, cuando estábamos ya en Isla Mujeres, y nos dijo ahora les puedo contar que vinimos a recoger a Posada”.
“El Santrina llegó con Posada Carriles a Miami. Eran las 10:30 de la mañana.”
“Al llegar El Santrina a Miami, Rubén López Castro se llevó a Posada Carriles en una lanchita rápida a un restaurante del Río Miami. Poco después regresó a El Santrina, y Rubén dijo: ¡ay, Dios mío, el jefe de la policía estaba en ese restaurante comiendo!”.
“Posada Carriles me regaló un cuadro después de haber llegado a Miami. Le regaló lo mismo a cada uno de los que lo acompañamos desde Isla Mujeres.”
Esta tarde, comienza el contra-interrogatorio del testigo, a cargo del abogado de Posada Carriles, Arturo Hernández.
Los fiscales han presentado cargos contra Posada Carriles por hacer declaraciones falsas sobre cómo llegó a territorio estadounidense y sobre su participación en una serie de atentados a hoteles en La Habana en 1997 que costó la muerte a Fabio di Celmo, un joven turista italiano.
A pesar del prontuario criminal de Luis Posada Carriles, con un proceso penal pendiente en Venezuela por la muerte de 73 personas que viajaban en un avión civil en 1976, el acusado se enfrenta a un juicio por mentiroso, traducido en 11 cargos federales de perjurio, obstrucción de la justicia y fraude de inmigración.
José Pertierra es abogado y tiene su bufete en Washington DC. Es el representante legal del gobierno de Venezuela para la extradición de Luis Posada Carriles.