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By: WILL WEISSERT,Associated Press
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — With opening statements set for Wednesday in an immigration fraud trial for an anti-communist militant considered Fidel Castro's nemesis, attorneys are arguing about how much of the defendant's cold-warrior past and the Cuban government's credibility should be admissible.
Luis Posada Carriles, 82, is a former CIA operative facing 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and naturalization fraud. He's accused of making false statements in 2005 for allegedly lying during immigration interviews in El Paso about how he got into the U.S.
and about his role in a string of 1997 bombings that rocked Havana hotels and killed an Italian tourist.
Prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge not to allow defense attorneys to raise questions about the Castro government's propensity for stretching historical facts — something Posada's lead attorney, Arturo Hernandez, had said he planned to do in his opening statement.
U.S .District Judge Kathleen Cardone did not issue a full ruling, but she said some of what Hernandez wanted to say was irrelevant.
"This is a case about lying but it's also a case about where the evidence is coming from to show that lie," Hernandez told the court. "I have a right to prove the Cuban government's motive to fabricate."
He said he will "demonstrate the long-lasting, long-existing bias of the Cuban government toward my client."
Lead prosecutor Timothy Reardon responded, "This is not the history channel. The regime in Cuba is not the defendant."
Cardone said she would consider a written response from Hernandez early Wednesday, then rule on the government's motion before opening arguments.
Posada wore a brown suit and an earpiece providing simultaneous Spanish translation, although declassified U.S. intelligence documents indicate he speaks English well.
He often makes a chewing motion with his mouth, having lost part of his tongue during an attempt on his life.
The list of those who may testify includes two police officers who will travel from Cuba and the forensic expert who performed an autopsy on Fabio Di Celmo, the Italian who was killed when a bomb tore through the lobby of Havana's Copacabana Hotel in 1997.
It took a day and a half to seat a jury of seven women and two men. Cardone summoned 130 jury candidates — instead of the usual 42 — so there would be enough who weren't prejudiced by previous news coverage of the case.
Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Both governments also say Posada was behind the 1997 Havana hotel bombings.
The U.S. is not trying Posada on either matter and an immigration judge previously ruled he cannot be extradited to Venezuela or Cuba for fear he could be tortured.
Posada was born in Cuba but left after Castro came to power in 1959. In the 1980s, he was acquitted in Venezuela of the 1976 airliner bombing, then escaped from prison while awaiting a government appeal.
Posada, also a former U.S. Army soldier and head of Venezuela's intelligence agency, has denied taking part in blowing up the airliner, though declassified FBI documents quote informants as saying he was deeply involved in planning it.
Posada previously admitted involvement in the hotel bombings in interviews with the New York Times, saying they were intended only to "break windows and cause minor damage."
Posada was convicted in Panama in a 2000 attempt to assassinate Castro there but received a presidential pardon in 2005. That March, his lawyer said Posada had come to Miami and was seeking U.S.
Under international pressure for harboring an accused terrorist, U.S. authorities arrested Posada in May 2005. A federal grand jury indicted him in the immigration fraud case in January 2007.
Posada has claimed he was brought across the U.S. border into Texas by a smuggler, but authorities allege he sailed from Mexico to Florida. In recent interviews with The Associated Press, Posada has not denied prosecutors' account.
Posada was released in April 2007 and has been living with his family in Miami since then.
Some in South Florida's Cuban-exile community view Posada as a hero who spent his life battling Castro.