A key government informant who testified on how anti-Castro foe, Luis Posada Carriles, made false statements about how he entered the United States and his involvement in a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist, takes the stand on Tuesday to face questioning on his own past.
Gilberto Abascal retakes the witness stand Tuesday, facing defense attorneys anxious to ask him how much he was paid to cooperate with authorities — and why he spent years failing to pay taxes.
Abascal, 45, is testifying at the trial for fellow Cuba native Posada Carilles, 82, who spent his life as an anti-communist militant operating across Latin America and faces 11 federal counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.
Abascal testified in Spanish through a translator that he was on a shrimp boat converted into a 90-foot yacht that sailed to Isla Mujeres, near the Mexican resort of Cancún, picked up Posada Carilles and brought him to Miami in March 2005. A photograph of Posada Carilles sitting in a barber's chair and wearing a blue sheet to keep hair off his clothing was entered into evidence Monday, and Abascal said it was taken in Isla Mujeres.
Posada said during immigration interviews that he paid a smuggler to drive him from Honduras to Houston. He originally denied ever having traveled to Isla Mujeres, but now says he went there to pick up cash to pay the people smuggler.
His defense team maintains that Posada Carilles' violent past made him ineligible for citizenship from the start — and that authorities held the hearings only to get him to lie under oath and build a criminal case against him.
Abascal also testified about his own past, saying he tried to flee Cuba in 1993, but had to turn back because of bad weather and was jailed for two years. In 1999, he sought U.S. political asylum.
He moved to Miami but, homesick, tried to return by boat to Cuba. Abascal was picked up by the Coast Guard who returned him to the U.S. While still on the water, he met with two FBI agents.
Prosecutors also asked Abascal about his taxes. Abascal admitted that for years he never reported his income or paid federal income taxes on a chicken farm in Tallahassee, Fla., that he and an associate bought.
"I knew it was wrong," he told the court.
While little known in the U.S., Posada Carilles is public enemy No. 1 in Cuba, even featured on propaganda billboards.
Posada Carilles participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion, though he was not one of the fighters who made it to Cuban soil. In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed "contra" rebels in Nicaragua. Posada Carilles also was arrested in Panama amid a plot to kill Castro during a visit there in 2000. He went to prison, but eventually received a presidential pardon — then turned up in the U.S.
Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada Carilles not only of the 1997 Cuban hotel bombings, but also of organizing an explosion aboard a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73 people. A U.S. immigration judge has previously ruled he can't be deported to either country because of fears of torture.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.