Defense focuses on key witness' trips to Cuba
The U.S. government paid nearly $80,000 to a confidential informant and main witness in the case against Luis Posada Carriles.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com
Jurors also heard testimony that the U.S. government spent nearly $80,000 on the witness, Hialeah exile Gilberto Abascal, after he agreed to testify against Posada.
Abascal was on the witness stand for a fifth straight day Friday as defense lawyer Arturo V. Fernandez continued trying to attack the credibility of the 45-year old handyman.
The witness acknowledged he visited Cuba four times in 2003-2004 and made two or three trips to the Cayman Islands -- a popular transit point for flights to and from Cuba.
Hernandez portrayed the trips as unusual, saying that the Cuban media had reported Abascal's presence among Posada's supporters in Panama in 2004. Posada was on trial in Panama on charges of plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Abascal testified he had no reason to be concerned when he traveled to Cuba because ``I wasn't doing anything wrong in Panama.''
The trial closed for the weekend before Hernandez, who has described Abascal as a Cuban intelligence collaborator, could ask more questions about Abascal's Cuba connections. The witness is expected to return Monday.
Abascal is the prosecution's main witness so far to the charge that Posada lied under oath when he claimed he was smuggled by land from Mexico to Texas in 2005. He testified that he helped smuggle Posada to Miami by sea from Mexico.
Posada, a CIA-trained bomb expert, also is charged with lying when he denied that he masterminded nine bombings of Cuban tourist spots in 1997 that killed one Italian visitor, and when he denied ever having a Guatemalan passport.
Abascal acknowledged that he twice denied to FBI agents in Miami that he helped smuggle Posada into Miami, but on a third interview ``told the truth because I was afraid.''
He became a confidential informant, and the FBI and U.S. immigration officials paid nearly $80,000 to Abascal from November 2005 to January 2007, according to government reports introduced as evidence.
That included $8,800 for ``services,'' nearly $40,000 for housing and $27,560 for food.
The numbers were not explained, but indicated Abascal was relocated when he became an informant.
The reports showed Abascal cooperated because he wanted money and FBI help with his citizenship application, and feared losing his disability payments for a workplace injury. He was eventually naturalized, despite acknowledging several income tax and other dodges.
`DON'T SPIT ON ME'
Abascal also continued snipping at Hernandez, whom he repeatedly accused of harassing him and his family. When the lawyer approached to show him a document, he snapped, ``Don't spit on me.''
In the Panama case, Posada and three other Cuban exiles were arrested in 2000 on charges of plotting to kill Castro. They were convicted of lesser charges in 2004, and were later pardoned by Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso.
After his release, Posada lived in Central America but turned up in Miami in 2005, telling U.S. immigration officials under oath that he had sneaked from Mexico into Texas.
Abascal testified that he was part of a group of Cuban exiles that sailed the yacht Santrina from Miami to Mexico's Isla Mujeres, picked up Posada and took him into Miami.
When the Santrina arrived back in Miami, Posada was transferred to a smaller boat and taken to a restaurant on the Miami River where other friends were waiting for him, according to his testimony.
The driver of the smaller boat returned to the Santrina later saying that by sheer coincidence a ``chief of police'' had been eating at the restaurant.
Former Miami Police Chief John Timoney made a brief cameo appearance at the trial Friday, testifying he was having lunch at the riverside Bigfish restaurant March 15 of 2005 when he saw a boat pull up to its dock.
Three or four ``guys who looked like they had just come in from fishing'' got out and walked past him, Timoney recalled.
He added that he did not recognize any of the men or Posada, sitting at the defense table.