EL PASO, Texas—Three officials from Cuba are expected to testify in the U.S. trial of a former CIA operative and anti-communist militant accused of lying during immigration hearings in Texas—a rare example of cooperation between two governments paralyzed by more than a half century of frigid relations.
Two police officers and a state medical examiner from Cuba could begin testifying as early as Tuesday in the U.S. government’s perjury case against Luis Posada Carriles. The 82-year-old native of Cuba spent a lifetime using violence to destabilize communist political systems throughout Latin America before seeking U.S citizenship in 2005.
Posada is not on trial for his Cold War past, however. Instead, U.S. prosecutors allege that during immigration hearings in El Paso, Posada made false statements about how he reached American soil in March 2005 and failed to acknowledge planning a series of 1997 bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist. Posada faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.
Neither side in Posada’s trial has released a witness list, but both the prosecution and the defense said privately Monday evening that they expect Cuban experts to begin testifying this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday. They have divulged the names of the three witnesses, but only on the condition they not be published until they take the stand.
The three Cuba officials are expected to detail for the West Texas jury the death of Fabio di Celmo, the Italian tourist killed when a bomb tore through the lobby bar at the Copacabana Hotel in Havana’s spiffy Miramar neighborhood. Posada admitted responsibility for the Havana hotel bombings in a 1998 interview with The New York Times, saying they were meant to hurt Cuban tourism but not kill anyone. He has since recanted.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone ruled last month that defense attorney Arturo Hernandez would be allowed to raise some issue about the credibility of the Cuban government and its state-trained experts while cross-examining the officials from Cuba. However, Cardone said Hernandez cannot put Cuba and its political system on trial.
Hernandez had argued that he should be allowed to cross-examine the experts about the communist government’s domination of all facets of life in Cuba, showing how state officials can be pressured into stretching the truth to further their homeland’s political objectives.
Posada is public enemy No. 1 in the island nation and is even likened to Hitler on propaganda billboards.
Cuba and Venezuela would like to try him for the 1997 hotel attacks as well as a 1976 airliner bombing that killed 73 people, but a U.S. immigration judge previously ruled Posada can’t be sent to either country for fear he could be tortured.
Posada participated indirectly in the U.S.-backed, ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 before joining the U.S. military and becoming a CIA asset. In the 1980s, he helped Washington provide aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama in a plot to kill Castro during a regional summit there. He was pardoned in 2004.
Posada has been living in Miami since his release from an U.S. immigration detention center in El Paso in 2007.