Witness: Cuba out to kill militant on trial in US

AP News
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Posted: Mar 30, 2011 5:55 PM
Witness: Cuba out to kill militant on trial in US

Cuba's domestic spy apparatus has a special department dedicated to assassinating enemies of the communist government, specifically those of ex-President Fidel Castro _ and a former CIA agent on trial for perjury is a primary target, a high-ranking Cuban defector testified Wednesday.

Roberto Hernandez Del Llano was a Cuban spy, a major in the state security division of the Interior Ministry. He left his post in 1992, saying he was disillusioned with government corruption, then fled to Miami in 2007 and has been called as a witness by the defense for Luis Posada Carriles, an 83-year-old anti-communist militant.

Posada was born in Cuba and is considered Castro's nemesis, featured on propaganda billboards in his homeland. He was a CIA operative until 1976 and spent decades working to destabilize communist governments around Latin America. But he sneaked into the U.S. in 2005 and now faces 11 counts of immigration fraud, obstruction of justice and perjury.

Prosecutors charge he lied during citizenship hearings in El Paso about how he made it into the country. They also say he failed to acknowledge planning a wave of 1997 bombings at Cuban luxury hotels and a top tourist restaurant in Havana between April and September 1997 that killed an Italian visitor and injured about a dozen other people.

In a 1998 interview with The New York Times, Posada said he masterminded the blasts but he has since recanted that.

State security in Cuba watches the island's population for subversive activity. But Hernandez Del Llano testified that it also has a "primary mission to fight against the United States," and tracks officials at the State Department, the FBI and the CIA, as well as members of Congress, the press and university students.

"There's a special department within Cuban intelligence," he added, "that is in charge of finding and eliminating the enemies of the government, particularly those of Fidel Castro."

Hernandez Del Llano detailed a separate wing of the agency, the Exile Immigration Division, which targets members of the Cuban-American exile community, saying its "fundamental duty is looking for, locating and liquidating Luis Posada Carriles."

He also focused on discrediting Lt. Col. Roberto Hernandez Caballero, a Cuban investigator and state security officer who flew from Havana to El Paso in February to testify for the U.S. government. He was in charge of investigating the 1997 bombings.

Hernandez Del Llano said he was approached about returning to work for state security in 2002, but refused since officials wanted him to bug the church and home of a Roman Catholic bishop assigned to Cuba. In retaliation, he said, Hernandez Caballero ordered him held in 2005 for 75 days in an underground dungeon at state security's Havana headquarters.

He said he was beaten once by Hernandez Caballero, who had him handcuffed and punched him repeatedly in the kidneys.

Hernandez Del Llano added that he was also beaten by other interrogators, but always sustained blows to the body so that his face wouldn't show signs of abuse. He said he eventually recorded a confession saying he had not been mistreated because he said Hernandez Caballero told him that doing so was the only way he would be released.

Hernandez Caballero cannot testify anew to respond to those charges. On cross-examination, however, prosecutors noted that Hernandez Del Llano told the FBI when first applying for U.S. political asylum that he worked for state security until 1995, not 1992. He also admitted having 11 months of KGB training in the Soviet Union, some of which focused on how to lie and beat polygraph tests.

Hernandez Del Llano said his request to leave Cuba was denied, but he made it out by bribing an immigration official. He said he told investigators while applying for U.S. asylum about what Hernandez Caballero did to him _ but had no intention of testifying about it until he and his son saw a recent story in a Miami newspaper about Hernandez Caballero's coming to the U.S. to be a witness.

"My 15-year-old told me, 'go and denounce that (expletive)' because he still has in his blood all of the hatred against that man," he said.