Witness: top Cuban-American exile leader ordered payments to the ex-CIA agent who is currently being tried for perjury
By Will Weissert (Canadian Press)
March 3, 2011 - 6:45 p.m.
EL PASO, Texas — The bookkeeper for a New Jersey business mogul who was once a director of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation testified Thursday that he wired as much as $9,600 in 1997 to Ramon Medina, one of the aliases used by an elderly ex-CIA operative on trial for perjury and immigration fraud.
Oscar De Rojas told the jury in federal court in El Paso that he sent 10 to 12 payments of $800 each to the pseudonym for anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles and at least one other associate in Guatemala and El Salvador. De Rojas said he did it on the orders of the late Cuban-American exile leader Arnoldo Monzon, who owned a chain of women's clothing stores.
De Rojas said he transferred the funds between March and September 2007, when a series of bombings rocked hotels in Cuba, killing an Italian tourist and wounding about a dozen others.
FBI Special Agent Omar Vega, who headed the investigation against Posada, testified that 21 wire transfers from New Jersey were sent to Ramon Medina in El Salvador between 1996 and 1997 and were worth a total of $18,900. Vega did not say whether those payments — some made under Monzon's own name — were in addition to those De Rojas said he sent using his name.
Posada, 83, spent decades crisscrossing Latin America, working to destabilize communist governments — often with Washington's support. He is public enemy No. 1 in his native Cuba and considered a personal nemesis of ex-President Fidel Castro, but faces only U.S. charges of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.
Prosecutors say Posada sneaked into the U.S. in March 2005 and lied while undergoing citizenship hearings in El Paso. He is accused of making false statements about how he made it into the country and about having a Guatemalan passport bearing his picture but another name. Posada is also charged with failing to acknowledge masterminding the 1997 Havana bombings.
In a 1998 interview with The New York Times, Posada said he planned the attacks, hoping to cripple tourism on the island, but that they were not meant to kill anyone. He said during the El Paso hearings that he did not understand what he told the Times, however, because the interview was conducted in English, which he doesn't speak.
He also admitted during those hearings that Ramon Medina was an alias he often used.
Monzon died in 2000 but had been a director of the Cuban American National Foundation, which spent decades as a well-funded voice for the island's exile community in South Florida and New Jersey, radically opposing Castro's communist government.
De Rojas said he did not know if any of the money he sent was used to plant the bombs, which exploded at luxury hotels and an iconic tourist restaurant in Havana, and the picturesque beach resort of Varadero east of the capital between April and September of 1997. He also said he had never met Posada and didn't know who ultimately received the money he sent.
Still, Ann Louise Bardach, the New York Times reporter who interviewed Posada, has been subpoenaed to testify, and what De Rojas said is important since Bardach quoted Posada as saying the bombings were financed by leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation. At the time her story was published, that revelation was among its most explosive because it corroborated what Cuba's government had been claiming for years — that top Cuban-American organizations were funding acts of terrorism on the island.
Also Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone ruled that a prosecution witness named Tony Alvarez, a Cuban living in Guatemala who was once engaged to one of Castro's relatives, would be allowed to testify despite defence objections. Court documents link Alvarez romantically to Castro's niece, the daughter of the former leader's sister, but also suggest he may have dated Castro's sister or daughter.
Alvarez had a Guatemala City office in 1997 that he shared with two associates who made contact with Posada. He plans to testify that Posada and the others brought components to the office that were later used to assemble the Cuban bombs. Alvarez also should detail a fax signed by "Solo," another Posada alias, which recounts receiving $3,200 from associates in New Jersey.
But Cardone also granted the defence permission to travel to Guatemala and speak to Alvarez's secretary, Cecilia Canel Pelen, who will apparently say the fax was in Alvarez's handwriting, not Posada's, and otherwise contradict her former boss. The prosecution says Canel Pelen has been unwilling to co-operate in the trial for more than two years, but the defence believes it can convince her to change her mind.
Posada was arrested in Panama in 2000 and linked to a plot to kill Castro during a summit there. He was pardoned in 2004, however, and turned up in the U.S. — prompting the current charges against him.
He was held in Texas and New Mexico immigration detention centres for about two years, but released in 2007 and has been living in Miami.