HAVANA – A top Cuban official denounced on Saturday a Texas jury's acquittal of a former CIA agent as a "shameful farce" that showed both the defendant and the U.S. government are liars.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Cuban Parliament Chief Ricardo Alarcon was highly critical of the federal judge presiding over the three-month trial, Kathleen Cardone, saying she did not allow jurors to see evidence that would have persuaded them to find Luis Posada Carriles guilty.
"The stupid and shameful farce is over," Alarcon said of the trial into allegations Posada lied during U.S. immigration hearings. "There were things the jury did not know ... particularly since the judge prohibited them from being told."
The Venezuelan government also condemned the verdict. The country's foreign ministry issued a statement Friday calling the trial an act of "theater" staged by U.S. authorities "to continue protecting the terrorist."
Posada, 83, a Cuban native, worked for decades to destabilize communist governments throughout Latin America and was often supported by Washington. He is Public Enemy No. 1 in Cuba, where he is believed to have been behind a series of hotel bombings that killed an Italian tourist and wounded about 12 other people in 1997.
Posada's alleged involvement in those attacks was central to the trial in El Paso, Texas, which wrapped up Friday with a not-guilty verdict. Posada was not charged directly with the attacks, but rather with lying about his role in an immigration hearing after he sneaked into the U.S. in 2005 and sought political asylum.
Posada said in a 1998 interview with The New York Times that he planned the bombings, but later recanted. During the trial, jurors heard more than two hours of recordings from those interviews, but apparently were not swayed.
Posada also participated in the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion, served as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was a CIA operative until 1976. He then moved to Venezuela and served as head of that country's intelligence service.
He was arrested for planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, but was acquitted by a Venezuelan military tribunal, then escaped from prison while still facing a civilian trial.
Posada helped the U.S. funnel support to Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s, and, in 2000, was arrested in Panama amid a plot to kill then-Cuban President Fidel Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned by Panama's president in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following March.
Cuba has long demanded Washington take action against Posada for his past, not just for the lesser crime of lying to immigration officers, a point Alarcon made again Saturday.
"The U.S. government is as much a liar as he is because it converted an assassin who has been sought for decades into a simple old liar," he said.
Some observers believe the verdict in Posada's case will not be good news for Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor sentenced last month to 15 years in prison for bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally while working on a USAID-funded democracy program.
The U.S. government has demanded his immediate release, and Gross' family and others have pleaded with Cuba to let the 61-year-old Maryland native go free on humanitarian grounds. U.S. officials have said privately that they have received signals from the Cuban government that Gross would ultimately be freed, but hopes dimmed somewhat after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited the island last month — only to leave empty-handed.
Alarcon said the two cases have nothing to do with each other, and insisted the Texas jury's verdict would have no bearing on Cuba's handling of the Gross case.
"These are completely distinct and separate things," Alarcon said. "We don't act like that. When we accuse someone, we are doing it because we have proof and we are not making it up. We don't accuse someone of being a liar or a bad person. We accuse them of having violated Cuban law."