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Posada Defense Tries To Paint Witness As Cuban Spy

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - The defense for a former CIA operative and anti-communist militant facing perjury charges spent Monday trying to portray a key prosecution witness as a spy for the Cuban government.

Attorneys for Luis Posada Carriles were pressing Gilberto Abascal about visits he made to Cuba in recent years, alleging that his frequent trips would have been impossible without the compliance of top communists.

Abascal, a Cuba native who now lives in suburban Miami, was on the witness stand for the sixth straight day. He admits to being a paid U.S. government informant who collected at least around $80,000 in federal funds to testify, but denies links to Cuban authorities.

The 45-year-old Abascal is key to many of the 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud charges against Posada, who spent a lifetime using violence to destabilize communist systems in Latin America and is Fidel Castro's nemesis.

Posada, 82, is charged with lying during immigration hearings in El Paso about how he sneaked into U.S. territory in March 2005, and for failing to acknowledge his role in a series of 1997 bombings in Havana hotels and one restaurant that killed an Italian tourist - even though he admitted responsibility in a subsequent interview with the New York Times.

Abascal testified that he was the mechanic aboard a shrimp boat converted into a yacht that sailed to the Mexican resort of Isla Mujeres, picked up Posada and helped him slip ashore in Miami. Posada told immigration authorities that he paid a people smuggler to drive him from Honduras across the Texas border and on to Houston.

Posada's attorney Arturo Hernandez spent hours grilling Abascal about his personal history in an attempt to discredit the witness and that story. Hernandez also suggested that Abascal might have been using so many trips to smuggle people or goods between the U.S. and Cuba.

"The only thing I have ever smuggled is Posada Carriles," Abascal replied. Hernandez shot back, "Isn't it a fact that you fabricated this story for money?"

"That's what you say," Abascal responded.

Abascal has testified that he tried to flee Cuba by boat in 1993 but had to turn back due to bad weather. He spent two years in prison, and said he was frequently harassed by Cuban state security agents after his release.

In 1999, Abascal was granted U.S. political asylum and relocated to Miami. But he said he was homesick after losing his job at a cigar factory, and attempted to return to his country by boat a few months later. That vessel was stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard, which discovered photos of a South Florida armed training site run by the violent anti-Castro exile group Alpha 66.

Hernandez alleged that Abascal was carrying those photos - some of which he admitted shooting - back to Cuba to show to government agents. The witness said they belonged to two other Cubans on the boat, and said they were meant for internal Cuban resistance forces as proof the Cuban-American community was supporting them.

In 2001, Abascal admitted receiving four to six phone calls from a man he said he knew was a Cuban state security agent named Daniel. Testifying Monday, Abascal said he hung up on all but one of those calls and that Daniel never tried to recruit him.

Hernandez also mentioned four visits Abascal made to Cuba in 2004 and 2005. He suggested that someone with known ties to Posada - who was considered public enemy No. 1 in Cuba - could not have been allowed to visit the island unless he was working for the Cuban government.

During later questioning by prosecutors, Abascal said he visited Cuba frequently because his mother was suffering from breast cancer that later killed her. Asked straight out if he was a Cuban spy, Abascal said "no" without showing any emotion.

U.S. attorney Jerome Teresinski objected to Hernandez's line of questioning even before it began Monday, arguing his point with U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone before the jury was seated.

"Counsel's argument reads like a John Grisham novel. It's fiction," Teresinski said. "He wants to put Cuba on trial. He wants to put Fidel Castro on trial."

Cardone overruled him.

After participating indirectly in the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada worked for the CIA and later served as head of intelligence for the Venezuelan government. In the 1980s, he helped support U.S.-backed Nicaraguan "contra" rebels.

Posada was imprisoned in Panama for a 2000 plot to kill Castro during a visit there, but was eventually pardoned and arrived in the U.S., prompting the current charges against him. He was jailed in El Paso but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.

Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada 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 that he couldn't be deported to either country because of fears of torture.