By Juan Carlos Llorca (Canadian Press) – March 8, 2011, 7:45 a.m.
EL PASO, Texas — A friend of Italian tourist killed in the 1997 bombing of a Havana hotel has provided harrowing testimony detailing the explosion and resulting carnage during the U.S. trial of a former CIA operative accused of immigration fraud who is suspected in that attack.
With the help of an interpreter, Enrico Gollo, 45, told the jury Monday how he and his then-wife were having a drink with Fabio di Celmo in the lobby bar of Havana's Copacabana Hotel when the bomb went off.
"The first thing I can remember was a big noise, I didn't immediately understand what was happening. My ears were ringing, there was lots of smoke," said Gollo recalling the Sept. 4, 1997, attack. A bomb, placed inside a metal ashtray in the lobby bar sent shrapnel flying through the air, slicing di Celmo's jugular.
"He was all covered in blood, near him a big lake of blood, there was a lot of blood coming out of him," Gollo said of his friend of 17 years.
Di Celmo was driven in a private car to a nearby clinic where he was pronounced dead upon arrival, Gollo said. Twelve other people, including Gollo's wife, were injured that day.
Cuba-born Luis Posada Carriles, 83, is accused of lying to immigration officials during citizenship hearings in El Paso about how he sneaked into the U.S. in March 2005, and of failing to acknowledge planning the Copacabana bombing and other attacks on Cuban hotels and a top Havana tourist restaurant in 1997.
He is also accused of perjury and the obstruction of justice in a terror probe.
Posada told The New York Times in 1998 that he was behind the bombings, which he said were meant to cripple the Cuban tourism industry. He has since recanted those comments.
Tuesday's testimony is expected to focus on the Havana bombings.
The Cuban militant spent decades traversing Latin America, often backed by Washington, working to destabilize communist governments. He is Public Enemy No. 1 in Cuba, considered ex-President Fidel Castro's personal nemesis, and his attorneys say the Cuban government is bent on seeing Posada dead or incarcerated.
A paid CIA agent for at least 12 years in the 1960s and 70s, Posada participated indirectly in the United States' failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and later moved to Venezuela, where he 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. A Venezuelan military court dismissed the charges, but Posada escaped from prison before a civilian trial against him was completed.
In the 1980s, he helped Washington provide aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama in a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004 and turned up in the U.S. the following March.
Posada was held in an immigration detention centre in El Paso for about two years but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.
Diario de El Paso: El amigo de Fabio