Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cuban exile refuses to testify on behalf of friend in gun case

South Florida Sun Sentienl

By Vanessa Blum

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Posted May 10 2006

Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles has refused to testify on behalf of his friend Santiago Alvarez and another man who are both charged by federal officials with possessing a cache of weapons.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn ordered Posada, 76, to appear as a defense witness at the trial of Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat, set to begin this month in Fort Lauderdale.

Posada, a close friend of Alvarez, was expected to counter testimony from a key government witness that Alvarez helped smuggle Posada into the United States last year.

In court documents filed last week, Miami attorney Eduardo Soto, who represents Posada, asked Cohn to exempt his client from appearing in court. If not, Soto said Posada would assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when called to the stand to avoid incriminating himself.

"Although Mr. Posada Carilles expresses a great desire to assist Mr. Alvarez in his upcoming trial by testifying, regrettably, it is not in Mr. Posada Carriles' best interests to do so," Soto wrote in a letter to Alvarez's attorney.

Posada is wanted by Cuban and Venezuelan authorities who accuse him of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, an attack that killed 73 people. Cuba also accuses him of plotting to kill Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000.

Cohn has not ruled on Posada's request. Posada is in federal custody in Texas, awaiting final proceedings on charges he illegally entered the country.

Federal authorities arrested Alvarez and Mitat, both 64, in November on federal weapons charges. Prosecutors charged Alvarez, a prominent Miami real estate developer, with storing a cache of machine guns, rifles, grenades and other illegal weapons at a Lauderhill apartment complex he owned. Mitat, who worked for Alvarez, helped transport and maintain the weapons, according to the federal indictment. Prosecutors have not said why the men were allegedly storing weapons.

Soto argued in court documents that Posada should not be forced to travel to South Florida for the trial because he suffers from several chronic medical ailments, including heart problems, skin cancer, jaw fractures, cataracts, hearing loss, and a tongue condition that makes it difficult for him to speak or swallow.

Alvarez has been a prominent Posada supporter and benefactor. In March 2005, when Posada arrived in the United States, Alvarez acted as his spokesman and advocate.

Posada claims to have entered the United States across the Texas-Mexico border. Prosecutors contend he was brought to the country on a shrimp boat co-owned by Alvarez.

Vanessa Blum can be reached at or 954-356-4605.

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