The charges against ex-CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles are serious in any language but so far, the case has hinged not on his prowess as a radical militant, but his English skills.
Cuba's public enemy number one spent decades crisscrossing Latin America as the ultimate cold warrior, using aliases to battle communist governments. But the 82-year-old Cuba native is in federal court not because of his past exploits, but because prosecutors say he lied to immigration officials after sneaking into the U.S. in 2005.
Posada Carriles is charged with perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud for giving false testimony in El Paso about how he reached American soil and for failing to admit to planning a series of Havana hotel bombings in 1997.
Defense attorneys say Posada Carriles's shaky grasp of English muddled the questions he answered under oath.
Retaking the stand Thursday is immigration officer Susanna Bolanos, who interviewed Posada Carriles during a second round of immigration hearings in 2006. She has testified as prosecutors played recordings of Posada Carriles answering questions in English as part of a test required for U.S. citizenship.
In court, Posada Carriles wears an earpiece providing a simultaneous Spanish translation of the proceedings. But recordings from 2006 reveal that even after he had permission to answer in either language, Posada Carriles continued to mix both.
Posada Carriles also was heard listing a string of assumed names he used while living in El Salvador in the early 1990s. He said that country's government supplied gun permits, passports and driver's licenses in those aliases.
Asked why that was necessary, he responded, "The communists will kill us."
Posada Carriles worked for the CIA in the 1960s. He later moved to Venezuela and became head of that country's intelligence service. He was acquitted by a military tribunal in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger airliner and escaped from prison before a government retrial.
In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed "contra" rebels in Nicaragua. Posada Carriles also was arrested in Panama amid a plot to kill Fidel Castro during a visit there in 2000. He went to prison, but eventually received a presidential pardon — then turned up in the U.S., prompting the current charges against him.
Posada Carriles has been living with his family in Miami.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.