Sick juror delays ex-CIA agent's case another day

AP News
Posted: Mar 01, 2011 2:10 PM
Sick juror delays ex-CIA agent's case another day

The much-watched perjury trial of an elderly ex-CIA agent and anti-communist militant from Cuba was suspended for the second time in as many days Tuesday, after a juror fell ill.

The latest delay in the on-again, off-again case of 83-year-old Luis Posada Carriles follows Monday's suspension due to a family tragedy for one of the defense lawyers. Proceedings have now ground to a halt five times since they began Jan. 10. The first three suspensions came when U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone ordered breaks to consider defense motions for mistrial, and after snow shut down most of El Paso.

A Cardone aide said he wasn't sure if the trial would resume Wednesday.

Posada is former Cuban President Fidel Castro's nemesis _ the two are almost the same age. He fled Cuba in the years after Castro took power in 1959 and spent decades as a Washington-backed Cold Warrior.

Now, however, Posada faces charges of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud. Prosecutors say he lied during citizenship hearings in El Paso after sneaking into the country in March 2005. They also accuse him of having a Guatemalan passport under a false name and refusing to admit responsibility for bombings of Cuban tourist sites in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist.

Posada said in a 1998 interview with the New York Times that the bombs were meant to cripple Cuban tourism but not kill anyone _ though he has since recanted that. In recent interviews with The Associated Press, Posada did not deny prosecutors' accounts of how he made it to the U.S., but ducked questions about the bombings.

Cardone began the case by holding a jury selection session that stretched until after 9 p.m. and declaring "we're going to move this trial as expeditiously as possible." She told jurors the case would likely take four to six weeks, but it's already in its eighth with no end in sight.

Impaneled jurors are paid $40 a day plus mileage, parking and lunch. Given how long it's taking, a motion last week authorized the seven women and five men of the Posada jury to receive an extra $10 per day.

Set to testify next is Omar Vega, the FBI case agent who headed the investigation of Posada. He will detail the recruitment of Gilberto Abascal, a handyman who became a government informant.

Abascal has testified that he was the mechanic aboard the Santrina, a yacht that stopped in the Bahamas in March 2005, then went to Isla Mujeres, near the Mexican resort of Cancun. He said Posada came aboard in Mexico and sailed to Miami, where he slipped ashore. Posada said during the El Paso hearings that he paid a people smuggler to drive him through Mexico into Texas.

Vega will likely work to rehabilitate Abascal's standing with the jury. Last week, Generoso Bringas, who used to work for the yacht's owner, testified that his passport had March 2005 entry stamps from the Bahamas and Mexico _ even though he was having surgery in Florida and never made those trips.

Bringas said he frequently traveled on the yacht and left his passport aboard, implying that Posada used it. But he also raised doubts about Abascal's credibility, saying "he's a person who totally has mental problems."

"When his wife left him for another man, he went crazy and wanted to kill everyone," Bringas said.

A paid CIA agent until 1976, Posada participated indirectly in the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion and later served as head of the Venezuelan government's intelligence service. He was arrested for planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people but escaped from a Venezuelan prison while still facing trial.

In the 1980s, he helped Washington provide aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama in connection with a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S., prompted the charges against him.

Posada was held in Texas and New Mexico immigration detention centers for about two years, but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.