A former CIA operative sought by Cuba and Venezuela for bombings of tourist hotels and the downing of a Cuban airliner went on trial here Monday on charges of fraud and perjury.
Luis Posada Carriles, 82, is accused of lying to US immigration agents about his arrival in the United States in 2005, charges that carry a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison.
The aging militant against Cuba’s communist regime arrived with his lawyers at the court just minutes before the start of jury selection for the trial, his second here before the same federal judge, Kathleen Cardone.
In Havana, the state-run media denounced the US trial as a “farce,” and the passions Posada Carriles arouses were on view outside the El Paso court house as rival groups of demonstrators staged protests for and against the Cuban exile.
With a history of anti-Fidel Castro militancy that dates back to the 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada Carriles worked through the Cold War for intelligence services in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile and Argentina.
US documents show he also worked for the CIA from 1965 to June 1976.
Then on October 6, 1976 a Cubana de Aviacion airliner blew up with 73 people aboard, including the Cuban national fencing team, after taking off from Barbados on a flight to Havana that originated in Venezuela. All aboard were killed.
Posada Carriles was arrested in Venezuela on charges stemming from the bombing, but he escaped from prison in 1985 while awaiting trial.
He later turned up in El Salvador running guns to Nicaraguan contra rebels in a clandestine US-backed operation.
In 2000, he was sentenced to eight years in prison in Panama for plotting to assassinate then-Cuban president Fidel Castro at an Ibero American summit. But Posada Carriles was pardoned four years later, and soon made his way to Miami, where he now lives with his family.
He was jailed in the United States for illegally entering the country, but was freed on parole in May 2007 by a federal judge in Texas.
The judge ruled that the US government had entrapped Posada Carriles by using an interview for citizenship as a way to gather evidence against him.
The US government appealed his release and will now seek to prove new charges of perjury presented against him in 2009.
The US Justice Department alleges that Posada Carriles lied when he said he had not taken part in a campaign of bombings of tourist hotels in Cuba in 1997, which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist.
Prosecutors plan to call as a witness journalist Ann Louis Bardach, who conducted an interview with Posada Carriles in 1998 in which he allegedly admitted taking part in the bombing campaign.
In Havana, meanwhile, the state media aired excerpts of a video-taped confession by an imprisoned Salvadoran who says he was recruited by Posada Carriles to carry out the hotel bombing campaign.
“I was a puppet of Posada Carriles,” said Francisco Chavez Abarca, who is serving a 30-year sentence for the bombings in Cuba.