- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 12, 2011

EL PASO, Texas | A federal prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that an ex-CIA agent and nemesis of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro “can do anything he wants to the Cuban regime” but broke federal law when he lied about it under oath while seeking American citizenship.

During opening statements in the trial of Luis Posada Carriles, a defense attorney countered that the Cuban militant “substantially told the truth” during naturalization hearings in 2005 and that the government’s case is built on an unreliable paid informant.

Mr. Posada, 82, faces 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and naturalization fraud. He is accused of making false statements during immigration interviews in 2005 in El Paso about how he got into the U.S. and about his role in a string of 1997 bombings that rocked Havana hotels and killed an Italian tourist.

In recent interviews with the Associated Press in Miami, where he lived with family while awaiting trial, Mr. Posada did not deny prosecutors’ account of how he reached American soil five years ago, but he has pleaded not guilty nevertheless. He declined to directly answer questions about his role in the hotel bombings.

“The evidence will show that he lied. He lied repeatedly during these interviews,” said lead prosecutor Timothy Reardon, a Washington-based U.S. attorney who focuses on counterterrorism, to the jury of seven women and five men, most of them of Hispanic origin.

Luis Posada Carriles (Associated Press)
Luis Posada Carriles (Associated Press) more >

Mr. Posada’s Miami-based attorney, Arturo Hernandez, said Mr. Posada has “always been on the side of our country” and that though he told some lies while seeking U.S. citizenship, he never committed perjury. Instead, Mr. Hernandez argues, Mr. Posada was the victim of false accusations by a paid government informant, Gilberto Abascal.

Cuba and Venezuela accuse Mr. Posada of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Both governments also say Mr. Posada was behind the 1997 Havana hotel attacks.

The U.S. is not trying Mr. Posada on either matter, however, sticking only to immigration charges. A federal immigration judge previously ruled that he cannot be deported to Venezuela or Cuba for fear he could be tortured.

On Wednesday, the white-haired Mr. Posada wore a dark suit and stood briefly for the jury as Mr. Hernandez began his opening statement. He sat quietly during the rest of the proceedings and displayed very little emotion. He often makes a chewing motion with his mouth, having lost part of his tongue during a previous attempt on his life.

Mr. Posada was born in Cuba but left after Mr. Castro came to power in 1959. In the 1980s, he was acquitted in Venezuela of the airliner bombing, then escaped from prison while awaiting a government appeal. Also the former head of Venezuela’s intelligence agency and an ex-U.S. Army second lieutenant, Mr. Posada has denied taking part in blowing up the airliner, though declassified FBI documents quote informants as saying he was deeply involved in planning it.

Mr. Posada was convicted in Panama in connection with a separate 2000 attempt to assassinate Mr. Castro there but received a presidential pardon. In March 2005, his lawyer said Mr. Posada had come to Miami and was seeking U.S. political asylum. Under international pressure for harboring an accused terrorist, U.S. authorities arrested Mr. Posada in May 2005.