A witness at the trial of ex-CIA operative Luis Posada Carilles opens a window on the workings of a secret 'black-ops' unit in Cuba dedicated to assassinating enemies of the communist government, specifically those of ex-President Fidel Castro.
Roberto Hernández Del Llano a former major in the state security division of Cuba's Interior Ministry, left his post in 1992, saying he was disillusioned with government corruption, then fled to Miami in 2007. He testified on Wednesday as a witness in the trial of Posada Carriles for immigration fraud.
State security in Cuba watches the island's population for subversive activity. But Hernández 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."
Hernández 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."
Posada Carilles 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.
Hernández Del Llano's testimony also focused on discrediting a witness for the prosecution: Lt. Col. Roberto Hernández 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.
Hernández 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, Hernández 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 Hernández Caballero, who had him handcuffed and punched him repeatedly in the kidneys.
Hernández 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 Hernández Caballero told him that doing so was the only way he would be released.
Hernández Caballero cannot testify anew to respond to those charges. On cross-examination, however, prosecutors noted that Hernández 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.
Hernández 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 Hernández 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 Hernández 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.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.