Tension before opening arguments in Posada trial
by Will Weissert
EL PASO, Texas—With opening statements set for Wednesday in an immigration fraud trial for an anti-communist militant considered Fidel Castro's nemesis, attorneys are arguing about how much of the defendant's cold-warrior past and the Cuban government's credibility should be admissible.
Luis Posada Carriles, 82, is a former CIA operative facing 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and naturalization fraud. He's accused of making false statements in 2005 for allegedly lying during immigration interviews 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.
Prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge not to allow defense attorneys to raise questions about the Castro government's propensity for stretching historical facts—something Posada's lead attorney, Arturo Hernandez, had said he planned to do in his opening statement.
U.S .District Judge Kathleen Cardone did not issue a full ruling, but she said some of what Hernandez wanted to say was irrelevant.
"This is a case about lying but it's also a case about where the evidence is coming from to show that lie," Hernandez told the court. "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 would consider a written response from Hernandez early Wednesday, then rule on the government's motion before opening arguments.
Posada wore a brown suit and an earpiece providing simultaneous Spanish translation, although declassified U.S. intelligence documents indicate he speaks English well. He often makes a chewing motion with his mouth, having lost part of his tongue during an attempt on his life.
The list of those who may testify includes two police officers who will travel from Cuba and the forensic expert who performed an autopsy on Fabio Di Celmo, the Italian who was killed when a bomb tore through the lobby of Havana's Copacabana Hotel in 1997.
It took a day and a half to seat a jury of seven women and two men. Cardone summoned 130 jury candidates—instead of the usual 42—so there would be enough who weren't prejudiced by previous news coverage of the case.
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 bombings.
The U.S. is not trying Posada on either matter and an immigration judge previously ruled he cannot be extradited to Venezuela or Cuba for fear he could be tortured.
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. Posada, also a former U.S. Army soldier and head of Venezuela's intelligence agency, has denied taking part in blowing up the airliner, though declassified FBI documents quote informants as saying he was deeply involved in planning it.
Posada previously admitted involvement in the hotel bombings in interviews with the New York Times, saying they were intended only to "break windows and cause minor damage."
Posada 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 U.S. 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.
Posada has claimed he was brought across the U.S. border into Texas by a smuggler, but authorities allege he sailed from Mexico to Florida. In recent interviews with The Associated Press, Posada has not denied prosecutors' account.
Posada was released in April 2007 and has been living with his family in Miami since then.
Some in South Florida's Cuban-exile community view Posada as a hero who spent his life battling Castro.
Luis Posada Carriles trial: Defense dealt a blow
A federal judge began questioning 130 people in the jury pool for the trial of accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.
by Juan O. Tamayo
EL PASO, Texas -- The judge in Luis Posada Carriles' trial dealt his defense an early blow on Tuesday, the first day of court arguments, saying he will not be allowed to argue that the Cuban government often falsifies evidence.
Arturo V. Hernandez, lawyer for the man that Cuba calls a terrorist and his supporters call a freedom fighter, had planned to mention nine such cases of lying if Cuban-provided evidence was submitted at the trial.
His examples included the Miami trial of the five Cuban spies and an investigation into Cuba's killing of four Brothers to The Rescue members in 1996.
Prosecutor Tim J. Riordan III objected strenuously and sometimes sarcastically in his counter-argument before U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone.
``This is not the History Channel . . . The regime in Cuba is not the defendant in this case,'' he said. ``This is not for The Miami Herald.''
Cardone said she was leaning toward accepting Riordan's argument but gave gave Hernandez until Wednesday morning to file a written argument.
The first open-court argument in the trial, which opened Monday, erupted just minutes after the jurors were seated -- seven women and five men, plus four female alternates. All but two appeared to be Hispanic.
Hernandez said he needed to lay out Cuba's alleged lies because prosecutors plan to have three Cuban officials testify about a string of Havana bombings in 1997, and submit 6,500 documents generated by the Cuban government.
Cardone said Hernandez will have the opportunity to challenge the authenticity of the Cuban evidence, but that his nine examples of lying were ``irrelevant.''
Posada is charged with lying when he denied under oath any role in the Havana bombings, lying about the way he entered the United States in 2005 and about a fake Guatemala passport.
Cardone also appeared to limit Hernandez's ability to challenge the motivation of U.S. immigration officials who questioned Posada in El Paso in 2005 and 2006 about his U.S. entry.
Nine of the charges of lying stem from those interviews, which in 2007 Cardone ruled were designed not to consider his asylum and naturalization requests but to build a criminal case against him. Her ruling was later overturned.
Hernandez made it clear that he planned to make Cuba a central element of the trial. ``On Cuba, the issue is endemic to this case,'' he said.
``There is a long-existing bias of the government of Cuba against my client,'' he added, referring to the 82-year-old Posada's half-century history of anti-Castro activities that have have put him at the top of the list of Cuba's enemies.
Hernandez appeared to be hoping to use his attacks on Cuba to cast doubt on the evidence against Posada and perhaps divert the jury's attention from the defendant to Havana's wrongdoings.
Riordan for his part made it clear he will try to exclude as many mentions of Cuba as possible, and focus on the strong evidence relating to Posada's role in the Havana bombings and his immigration interviews in El Paso in 2005.
Cardone said the trial would resume Wednesday with opening arguments by the prosecution and defense.
Cardone highlighted the importance of the Posada case when she noted that she had called up 130 potential jurors -- more than three times her usual jury pool of 42 -- to make sure they had enough good jurors to fill the 16 seats in her courtroom.
Hernandez tried but failed to rule out any of the jurors who acknowledged having read or heard news accounts that Posada had been accused in the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner in which 73 people were killed, saying that such as ``heinous act'' would affect any juror's thinking.
Confrontations were meanwhile reported at the Camino Real Hotel, near the courthouse, where Posada and some of his lawyers have been spotted several times. It's not clear if they are staying there.
José Pertierra, a U.S. lawyer who represents Venezuela in its attempt to extradite Carriles for a retrial on the Cubana de Aviacion bombing, said he was threatened with death when he ran into one of Posada's supporters at the hotel Monday.
Pertierra said he would file a complaint with the FBI about the threat, which he said had been witnessed by a journalist from Telesur, a Venezuela-based network that includes Cuba.
Diario de El Paso
Constituido jurado que juzgará a Posada Carriles
por José Pertierra
Con la selección del jurado de 5 hombres y 7 mujeres, mañana comenzarán los testimonios en la Corte de la juez Kathleen Cardone en el juicio que se sigue por fraude migratorio al terrorista Luis Posada Carriles.
La jueza anunció que mañana, a las 10:00 AM, la fiscalía tendrá la primera palabra. El Fiscal Timothy Reardon pidió 60 minutos para introducir los elementos del caso al jurado, y el abogado de Posada Carriles pidió la misma cantidad de tiempo. Después de las palabras introductorias de ambas partes, la Fiscalía comenzará el proceso de presentar la evidencia, incluyendo los testigos. La defensa podrá hacerle contra-interrogatorio a estos.
Al concluir la versión del caso de la Fiscalía, los abogados de Posada Carriles presentarán su versión. Con evidencia y testigos que la fiscalía podrá tratar de desafiar o cuestionar. Al final, sobrevendrían las conclusiones. Hasta aquí se trata de un guión previsible, salvo que la Jueza aseguró que este caso tardaría más de un mes en ventilarse.
Con el jurado ausente del tribunal para que los abogados ventilaran asuntos preliminares del juicio, el fiscal Reardon le expresó a la Jueza Cardone su preocupación de que el abogado de Posada utilizaría su turno de presentación inicial al jurado para fustigar a un país: específicamente a Cuba.
Arturo Hernández, el abogado de Posada, dijo que “el tema Cuba es endémico a este caso”. Que quiere avisarle al jurado que presentará “plétora de evidencia del tipo de régimen que tiene Cuba”, y que tiene “el derecho de probar que el régimen de Cuba miente y fabrica evidencia falsa”.
Hernández afirmó que el gobierno de Cuba está prejuiciado hace tiempo contra Posada. Habló de “50 años de dictadura y tiranía contra el pueblo cubano”. Y amenazó con presentar ejemplos históricos de la “tiranía castrista”.
Reardon respondió contundentemente: “Este no es el History Channel (un canal de la televisión norteamericana)”. Dijo que la Fiscalía piensa traer dos policías cubanos y un médico. En ese momento, se le viró Reardon hacia Posada. Lo miró y le dijo “. . . . para que testifiquen sobre la muerte de ese ‘pobre italiano’: ¿SE ACUERDA?“, le dijo con el tono más alto de su voz. Posada ni lo miró, ni parpadeó. Es un témpano.
Reardon advirtió a la jueza sobre la táctica de Hernández: “Este es un foro judicial. No es el Miami Herald”. Presente en la corte, al lado mío, estaba Juan Tamayo, del Miami Herald. Le pregunté si pensaba titular su nota mañana así.
La jueza dictaminó que la “evidencia” que Hernández quería presentar -lo había anunciado anteriormente- “no es relevante a este juicio”, aunque cualquier evidencia que ambos litigantes presentes será sujeta a un cuestionamiento sobre su validez.
Recuerda que la evidencia (puntos 1 a 9) que Hernández quería presentar es esta:
1. Que el gobierno de Cuba (al cual le llama el Régimen de Castro) falsifica e inventa evidencia para utilizar en casos penales y el hecho que no existe un sistema judicial independiente, y que ésta está manipulado por la “la voluntad política de los líderes del gobierno de Cuba”
El caso concluyó hoy un poquito después de las 4 de la tarde, hora de El Paso.
José Pertierra es abogado. Representa al gobierno de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela en el caso de la extradición de Luis Posada Carriles a Caracas.