A new stage in the trial of Luis Posada Carriles in El Paso began today. Thus far, the prosecution has put into evidence only the lies that the Defendant made during hearings regarding his application for asylum in 2005 and interviews about his application for citizenship in 2006. But starting this morning, the prosecution began the process of establishing the truth to the jury.
Outside Judge Kathleen Cardone´s courtroom earlier today, sat a stocky man on a solitary wooden chair. He is one of the main witnesses against Luis Posada Carriles in his perjury trial at El Paso, Texas: Gilberto Abascal.
Dressed in a gray woolen suit and tie, the witness waited, uncomfortably, to be called to testify. He is a relatively young man in comparison with his traveling companions. When at last he was invited into the courtroom to testify, everyone could see that Abascal was very nervous. The first thing he did was ask for a glass of water. Sweating heavily with his buttoned coat bunched up around his chest, he began by answering some preliminary questions about his family. He testified that he is 45 years old. He said that he never testified in court before, and it looked as if this was one of the few times he had ever worn a suit.
He told the jury that he is separated from his wife and has two children. Big drops of sweat slid down his wide forehead, toward his eyebrows, Abascal felt them and, several times, awkwardly jerked his left thumb up toward his forehead to wipe the drops away, as he respectfully answered the many questions put to him by U.S. attorney Jerome Teresinsky.
Posada Carriles Arrived in Miami on the Santrina
But Abascal did not come to court to tell us about his family. He came to testify about the manner in which Luis Posada Carriles in fact entered the United States in March of 2005. The Defendant is on record as saying under oath on several occasions that he crossed over to the United States, near the Mexican border town of Matamoros, with the help of a coyote in a blue pickup truck. Today Abascal revealed what really happened. He told the twelve people on the jury, who were listening in rapt attention, that Posada Carriles illegally entered the United States on that date, but not in a pickup truck and not by land. According to Abascal, the Defendant reached shore in the city of Miami, on a converted shrimp boat called the Santrina. "When we arrived in Miami," testified Abascal, "Posada was on the boat with us."
Responding to Teresinski's questions, Abascal told how the Santrina picked up Posada Carriles in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, in March of 2005. Although he couldn't remember the exact day, he was sure that it was in March of that year. The prosecutor asked if he could identify Posada Carriles and Abascal did not hesitate. With the index finger of his right hand, he pointed directly at Luis Posada Carriles. "It's him," he said. "The man in the red tie." Today Posada wore a tie of that color.
"Let the record show that the witness has correctly identified Luis Posada Carriles," said Teresinski. At that moment I saw all the members of the jury look toward Posada, who kept his eyes fixed on Abascal, as though there was no one else in the room.
Abascal told the jury how in March of 2005 he traveled from Miami to Isla Mujeres aboard the Santrina, with a brief stop in the Bahamas. Aboard the 90-foot vessel, he said, were Santiago Álvarez, Osvaldo Mitat, José Pujol and Raúl López Castro. Abascal explained that the Santrina ran aground on a sandbar, off shore from Isla Mujeres, at 5:00 AM.
"Immigration and customs officers arrived. When they saw the Santrina's situation, they sent a small tugboat to help us. It took 3 or 4 hours to pull us out of there. I was worried because dogs, divers and journalists arrived and registered the ship's presence," stated Abascal. "I saw Santiago Álvarez and Pepin Pujol leave the boat. Four hours later, they returned with Luis Posada Carriles, Ernesto Abreu and another person whose name I don't know."
"Mr. Posada was there and I was afraid"
The first time that Abascal made Posada Carriles' acquaintance was not in 2005 at Isla Mujeres, but a year earlier, in Panama. "Santiago Álvarez asked me to go to Panama and it was there that I met Posada," he admitted. "Posada was very grateful because I had done some work in his wife's house in Miami. I fixed the toilet. When I met him in Panamá, Posada gave me one of his paintings. He also asked me to deliver some money to his wife."
The prosecutor then showed Abascal a series of photographs, so he could identify them before introducing them as evidence in the case. "Yes, I recognize them. They were taken in March of 2005 at Isla Mujeres," said Abascal, and he proceed to identify each of the persons in the pictures: Santiago Álvarez, Osvaldo Mitat, Rubén López Castro and Pepín (José Hilario) Pujol. He said that they were the crew aboard the Santrina, during its voyage to Isla Mujeres. “The photos were taken after we ran aground there.”
Midway through his testimony, Abascal´s confidence grew and his nervousness dissipated. With a firm voice, he told the jury that when he realized that Posada Carriles would be traveling with them on the Santrina, he began to fret: "Mr. Posada was there and I was afraid."
The prosecutor then placed other photos in his hands. "This is Ernesto Abreu, who showed up in Isla Mujeres with Posada Carriles," he said. "This other one is a photo of the Santrina, and the little boat behind it is the one that was helping get us out of where we beached," he continued.
Posada Carriles in a Barbershop on Isla Mujeres
With apparent calm, Abascal then described Posada’s appearance in Isla Mujeres. "He was hairy. He was wearing shorts, flat shoes, a gray cloth hat and he carried a suitcase." Teresinski then showed him a photo of a gray-haired man, seated in a red chair in a barbershop wearing a blue barber's apron, over his shorts, speckled with white hair. "That is a photograph of Luis Posada Carriles," said Abascal. "Rubén López Castro took it at Isla Mujeres in March of 2005 with a disposable camera that he gave me to deliver to Santiago Álvarez."
Abascal told the jury how Santiago Álvarez himself had given him the photo. 'I wrote on the back of the photo in my own handwriting: "Posada getting a haircut in Isla Mujeres, Cancún."
What the Jury Doesn't Realize
Abascal said that he met Santiago Álvarez through Ihosvani Surís de la Torre, with whom he'd worked on maintenance projects. "In April of 2001, Santiago Álvarez, Surís de la Torre and another person planned to go to Cuba to do something against the Cuban government," said Abascal who testified that he told the FBI about the attempt that Álvarez and Surís had planned.
The prosecutor didn't ask and Abascal didn't say that Surís de la Torre sneaked into Cuba, from Miami to carry out terrorist attacks. They came ashore at Villa Clara on April 25, 2001. Along with Surís were Máximo Pradera Valdés and Santiago Padrón Quintero. The Cuban coast guard immediately arrested the three terrorists, after a short skirmish. Cuban authorities confiscated four AK-47s, an M-3 rifle, three Makarov pistols, ammunition and grenades.
Two months later, the Cuban television program Mesa Redonda [Round Table] showed a video of the captured terrorists. It showed Surís, under arrest, speaking by telephone with his boss in Miami, Santiago Álvaarez, who recommended that he carefully continue with the plans to place explosives in the famous Tropicana cabaret located in the Havana neighborhood of Marianao.
Of course, the El Paso jury didn’t hear any of this, because this case is not about terrorism or murder. The prosecutor only wants to know from Abascal how and where Posada Carriles entered the United States illegally. Álvarez is Luis Posada Carriles main fiscal benefactor and the owner of the Santrina. He is a wealthy man and "owns five or six condominiums and 700 apartments," said Abascal.
Abascal´s dirty laundry
While listening to Abascal´s testimony, Posada’s attorney took notes and prepared to impeach him. Arturo Hernández already warned the jury on the first day of trial that Abascal "is a person with a serious mental illness." During opening statements two weeks ago, Hernández said that Abascal "suffers from psychosis, paranoia and depression. He has been hospitalized for that. He is a criminal. A fraud, and furthermore, a Cuban spy."
Tomorrow Teresinski will finish his direct examination, and it will be Hernández's turn to cross-examine him. Anticipating what Hernández will bring out on cross and trying to preempt it, the prosecutor today tried to be air his dirty laundry. Teresinski hopes that the jury will realize that, despite Abascal´s previous bad acts, he is a man who came to El Paso tell the truth.
The prosecutor asked his own witness about the 1999 arrest on the high seas, as he embarked to return to Cuba in 1999: only three months after having arrived in the United States. "I didn't have any work, I didn't have any money, I was depressed and I missed Cuba," said Abascal. "The FBI interrogated me because I had a number of photographs of members of Alpha 66 when they grabbed me." Alpha 66 is a Miami-based group that the Cuban government considers to be terrorist.
Abascal also admitted not having paid federal taxes on the income that he earned during several years as a handyman in Miami, although he couched his answer by saying that he had not earned much money. He explained that he fell while working in Miami some years ago. He broke his back and neck. "I now have an electric battery in my spine and I suffer from depression, anxiety and insomnia."
Anticipating Hernández's questions tomorrow, Teresinski also wanted Abascal to tell the jury that in 2001 he received four phone calls from someone named "Daniel" in Cuba. "He called me from Cuba to ask me if I knew who Surís was," said Abascal. "I guessed that Daniel was from Cuban security and so I told the FBI."
The government will finish with its direct examination of Abascal tomorrow. The case is set to begin at 8:30 a.m., with a lunch recess at noon. Judge Cardone usually gives everyone an hour for lunch, but starting Tuesday, we'll have an hour and a half. One of Posada's attorneys, Felipe Millán, asked the judge for an extra half hour because his client "has difficulty chewing." Granted. Just then we ended for today.
Read El Paso Diary (IV): The Lead Prosecutor in the Cuban Five Case Refused a DHS Request to Press Criminal Charges Against Posada Carriles
Read El Paso Diary (V): Art's Theater
Read El Paso Diary (VI): First, the Lies
Read El Paso Diary (VII): The Tip of the Iceberg
Read El Paso Diary (X): The Fear, the Courage and the Bomb
Read El Paso Diary (XIII): The soap opera matters more than the truth
Read El Paso Diary (XIV): Posada Carriles sleeps like a baby