February 10, 2011
Alfonso Chardy, El Nuevo Herald
EL PASO, Texas -- In a federal courthouse just blocks from the violence-wracked Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, a high-ranking Cuban military officer testified Wednesday against Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles, describing damages caused by bombings blamed on Posada at Cuban tourist hotels.
Lt. Col. Roberto Hernandez Caballero, 47, told jurors about what he observed in 1997 at two bombings sites, the Melia Cohiba and Capri hotels, both in Havana. Blurry pictures of the damages were flashed on monitors in front of jurors. One picture was sharp enough to show part of a wall splintered by what Hernandez Caballero said was the force of the explosion
The testimony of the military officer and state security official at the Cuban Ministry of the Interior marked the start of a new phase of the Posada trial, one in which the prosecution will try to show how the exile militant lied about his alleged role in the bombings.
“When I arrived at the area of the explosion, I noticed that the bomb had gone off in a sink of the bathroom of the discotheque,” said Hernandez Caballero, referring to the first blast he responded to on April 12, 1997, at the Melia Cohiba hotel.
Hernandez Caballero’s testimony was constantly interrupted by objections from Posada’s attorney, Arturo V. Hernandez. Most of the objections were overruled by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone.
Prior to Hernandez Caballero’s testimony, Cardone decided that the perjury trial would proceed with testimony by Hernandez Caballero. She delayed the trial Tuesday so that she could hear objections from Posada’s attorney to the testimony of two Cuban witnesses, Hernandez Caballero and medical examiner Ileana Vizcaino Dime.
Cardone said she wanted to hear Vizcaino Dime’s testimony before deciding whether the jury can hear it. After Hernandez Caballero finishes testifying, Vizcaino Dime will be questioned by prosecutors and Posada’s defense lawyers without the jury present in the courtroom.
Hernandez had asked Cardone to exclude 6,000 Cuban government documents that the Cuban witnesses planned to testify on and to delay the trial for several days so he could more carefully study the voluminous papers.
But the prosecution argued that it planned to use fewer than 200 of the 6,000 documents and that those had been clearly identified to Hernandez. Prosecutors told the judge that the Cuban witnesses would only testify about an autopsy performed on an Italian tourist killed by one of the blasts and on technical details of the Cuban investigation into the bombings. The prosecutors also said that the Cuban witnesses would not be allowed to link Posada to the bombings.
Posada has been charged with lying to immigration officials about his alleged role in the bombings. In 1998, The New York Times quoted Posada as claiming responsibility for the bombings, but at an immigration hearing in El Paso in 2005, Posada said he misspoke to the reporter because his English is poor and he didn’t express himself clearly.