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Posada, anti-Castro exile and former CIA operative, goes on trial

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
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Cuba's 'Public Enemy #1' faces trial
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cuba accuses Posada of blowing up a commercial airliner and other terror acts
  • He will face trial in the United States for lying to immigration officials
  • While awaiting trial on the plane bombing, Posada escapes from Venezuela jail
  • He has denied involvement but a declassified CIA document quotes him saying otherwise
RELATED TOPICS
  • Cuba
  • Fidel Castro

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- For most of his 82 years, Luis Posada Carriles has endeavored with a single-minded determination to bring down the Cuban Revolution.

An anti-Castro Cuban exile and former CIA operative, Posada is accused by the Cuban government of blowing up a commercial airliner, masterminding a bombing campaign of Havana tourist attractions and attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro.

While denying that he was behind those attacks, Posada, in his rare public comments, called himself "a soldier" not opposed to using violence to force change in Cuba.

Before falling ill and stepping down as president, Fidel Castro referred to Posada as the "most dangerous terrorist in the Western hemisphere" and called for him to be bought to justice for alleged attacks that date back over 30 years.

On Monday, Posada will face trial -- but not on those charges and not in Cuba. He will be tried in the United States for lying to immigration officials.

The "case reads like one of Robert Ludlum's espionage thrillers, with all the plot twists and turns Ludlum is famous for," one of the judges who has heard the case over the last five years wrote in the court records.

Posada faces 11 counts of lying to officials about how he entered the United States in 2005 and his alleged involvement in attacks on Cuba. He faces five to eight years in prison if convicted.

For Margarita Morales, Posada's trial provides little comfort. Morales' father Luis Alfredo Morales Viego was killed in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight.

"It's painful to know that Posada Carriles is only being tried for lying to immigration officials," Morales said, tears in her eyes. "How long do I have to put up with him being called a liar when he's a killer, a terrorist?"

The bomb exploded shortly after Cubana Flight 455 took off from Barbados, killing all 73 passengers and crew aboard. Morales, a trainer for Cuba's national fencing team, was one of 24 team members to die in the crash.

Following the crash, Posada was arrested and tried in Venezuela where he had worked for the country's intelligence services. While awaiting trial for the airplane bombing, he escaped from jail.

Posada denied involvement in the attack. But a declassified CIA document obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University quoted Posada as saying, "we are going to hit a Cuban airplane."

Venezuela, whose president Hugo Chavez is a staunch ally of Cuba, continues to seek Posada's exradition for the airliner bombing case. So far, U.S. courts have declined to extradite Posada citing his fear of being tortured in Venezuela.

"If Posada Carriles were instead named 'Mohammed,' he would have been extradited a long time ago," said Jose Pertierra, the attorney handling Venezuela's extradition request. "There's a lot of skeletons in those closets and I am sure there's folks in Washington who don't want to see Posada Carriles get extradited because he might sing like a canary."

While Posada is not being tried for being a terrorist, he does face charges for allegedly lying about terrorism.

In 2005, Posada was arrested by Homeland Security agents after giving a press conference in Miami where he denied involvement in the airline bombing or targeting civilians in his war against the Cuban government.

Initially, he was charged with entering the United States illegally but then federal prosecutors also indicted Posada for lying to immigration officials about his alleged involvement in a series of bombings in Havana in 1997.

In 1998, Posada admitted to The New York Times that he had dispatched a group of operatives to Cuba to set off bombs in hotels and restaurants in the hopes of ruining the island's tourism industry. An Italian businessman Fabio Di Celmo was killed in one of the bombings.

''It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop,'' Posada told the newspaper. ''That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Asked if he felt remorse, Posada told the paper, ''I sleep like a baby.''

Several of those operatives were captured in Cuba and implicated Posada during their trials, according to Cuban government media reports and video shown on the island of the men's testimony.

In court filings, Posada's attorneys argue that his English was too poor to understand the reporter's questions. The interviews were recorded though and are expected to be a central part of the government's case against Posada.

Fabio Di Celmo's father, Giustino, has lived in Cuba since the 1997 bombing that took his son's life. He was in his room at the Copacabana Hotel when the C-4 plastic explosives went off in the lobby where his son was.

"I never thought that a bomb had gone off," Di Celmo said in an interview. "Fifteen minutes later, I was told Fabio had been killed."

A piece of shrapnel from the bomb had gone through his son's neck.

"If the bomb went off 15 or 20 minutes later when the (hotel) restaurant was open, it would have been a bloodbath," Di Celmo said. "How do you fight ideas by murdering people?"

 
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