Texas Informant testifies Posada lied about how he got into U.S.

By Will Weissert

Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- A former CIA operative who is Fidel Castro's nemesis lied about how he sneaked into the United States in 2005, a Cuban exile testified Monday, showing a photograph to corroborate his story.

Gilberto Abascal, a paid U.S. government informant, testified at the federal trial for fellow Cuba native Luis Posada Carilles, who is accused of lying under oath during immigration hearings in El Paso, after slipping into the U.S. and seeking political asylum. Prosecutors claim Posada made false statements about how he reached U.S. soil and about his involvement in a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. Posada, 82, faces 11 federal counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.

Abascal said he was on a shrimp boat converted into a 90-foot yacht that sailed to Isla Mujeres, near Cancun, picked up Posada and brought him to Miami in March 2005. Entered into evidence was a picture of Posada sitting in a barber's chair and wearing a blue sheet to keep hair off his clothing. He is seen having his hair cropped at the sides with an electric razor. Abascal said the picture was taken in Isla Mujeres.

Posada said during immigration interviews in 2005 and 2006 that he paid a smuggler to drive him from Honduras, through Mexico and on to Houston, where he caught a bus to Miami. He originally denied ever having traveled to Isla Mujeres, but now says he went there and made contact with the yacht, The Santrina, to pick up cash to pay the people smuggler.

Abascal, 45, has yet to be questioned by Posada's lawyers. Lead defense attorney Arturo Hernandez has argued that Abascal isn't credible, having collected more than $150,000 in fees from U.S. officials for spying on Posada.

Abascal spent more than four hours testifying in Spanish through an interpreter. He said he won political asylum in the U.S. in 1999, after spending two years in prison for trying to flee Cuba on a boat from his hometown, Batabano, south of Havana.

Abascal said he got to know a Miami-based Posada benefactor named Santiago Alvarez through another Cuban exile. Abascal said Alvarez hired him in 2004 to convert a shrimp boat into a yacht. Abascal said he, Alvarez and three other men used that yacht to sail to Isla Mujeres, although they had been told they were headed to Central America. As they reached Mexico, Alvarez called the group together and told them the real mission was to collect Posada, Abascal said.

The boat ran aground near Isla Mujeres, where Mexican journalists, including one Abascal suspected was a spy for Castro, were waiting, Abascal said.

"I thought about taking a plane and leaving," he testified. "I was afraid that they were going to think that I was a snitch" because the journalists had discovered where the Santrina was arriving.

Posada, the most-wanted man in Cuba, spent a lifetime crisscrossing Latin America, seeking to topple communist governments. An anti-government insurgent after Castro came to power in 1959, Abascal eventually fled the island, became a CIA asset and joined the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion, though he was not one of those who made it to Cuban soil during fighting. He then joined the U.S. Army.

Posada later moved to Venezuela and headed that country's intelligence service. In 1976, he was arrested for planning the bombing of a Cuban airliner that exploded off the coast of Barbados, killing all 73 passengers. He was acquitted in military court, but escaped from prison in 1985, while awaiting a civilian retrial. He then worked with the CIA again, this time from El Salvador as part of U.S. backing of contra rebels in Nicaragua.

In 2000, Posada was arrested in Panama in connection with a plot to kill Castro during a regional summit there. He received a pardon in 2004, then turned up in Miami and asked for political asylum -- sparking the current charges against him. He has been living in Miami while the immigration case proceeds.

Venezuela wants to try Posada for the 1976 airliner bombing. He also is wanted in Cuba for planning the bombs that exploded in about a dozen Havana hotels and a popular tourist restaurant, La Bodeguita del Medio. A U.S. immigration judge has previously ruled that Posada cannot be deported to either country because of fears he could be tortured or otherwise mistreated.

Posada has not commented during the trial on Hernandez's advice. But he spoke by phone Monday to Spanish-language radio stations WAQI in Miami, saying, "I have faith in God's justice. We feel good."

He said Cuban-American groups had been great in financially supporting him -- but that his legal bills are piling up.

"Experts cost money," Posada said in Spanish. "The trip to hotels . the exile (community) has responded well."

Posada declined to comment about the interview outside the courtroom. Hernandez said his legal fees have been paid for by "asking the Cuban-American community to contribute checks, often in small, individual amounts, for three years."

Published: Wed, Jan 26, 2011

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