By JOSÉ PERTIERRA
March 15, 2011
An FBI agent today corroborated in El Paso’s federal court that Cuba has been the target of terrorism financed from the United States. The agent revealed details about the money trail that funded a campaign of terror against Cuba in 1997 and stretched from New Jersey to Cuba by way of Guatemala and El Salvador. The conspiracy was masterminded by Luis Posada Carriles and carried out by his co-conspirators.
The cross-examination of the accountant
Before FBI agent Omar Vega’s long-awaited testimony, Oscar de Rojas took the stand to be cross-examined.
De Rojas declared yesterday that a member of the board of directors of the Cuban American National Foundation, Arnaldo Monzón Plasencia, had given him the order to wire thousands of dollars in money orders to Ramón Medina, the pseudonym preferred by Posada Carriles and his co-conspirators in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Today the defense attorney cross-examined de Rojas. Although Arturo Hernández tried to impeach the witness, he was only able to get de Rojas to admit that he did not know Posada Carriles personally and had never spoken with him. “I only know that I sent these electronic money transfers to Ramón Medina,” de Rojas said.
De Rojas stepped down slowly from the witness stand and exited the courtroom, having established that the money trail that financed the bombing campaign against Cuba in 1997 went through New Jersey to Posada Carriles in Central America, and originated from a member of the Board of Directors of the Cuban American National Foundation.
Omar Vega, FBI agent
But the tale of the money trail did not end with the accountant. Prosecutor Jerome Teresinski called the next witness: Omar Vega, the lead FBI agent on the case of Luis Posada Carriles.
Tall and slender with just the first signs of balding, Vega is a man in his early thirties. His parents emigrated from Cuba, and he was born in the United States. Vega testified that he has a university degree in electrical engineering. He joined the FBI’s Counter-Terrorism Affairs team in 2004, working out of the FBI’s Miami office. He told the jurors that he has been on the Posada Carriles case since 2005.
During the last six years, Vega’s task has been to uncover the secrets of a sophisticated conspiracy between a group of Cuban exiles and their paid Central American triggermen to commit violent crimes against civilian targets in Cuba. His investigation took him to far-flung places: New Jersey, Guatemala, Miami, Italy and Cuba. It hasn’t been easy to put the pieces of this puzzle together.
There is no one in the United States who knows the Posada case better than Vega. Because he is the FBI’s designated case agent, he sits behind the prosecutors at counsel table. There, he explains, instructs and helps interpret the riddles along the way.
When he is not in the courtroom, Vega shepherds the Government’s witnesses, making sure that their air transportation to El Paso as well as their hotel lodging are in order. He is an essential part of the witness-preparation process. Anyone watching his rapport with the witnesses can see that he has their trust and confidence.
His understated demeanor helped him question such dissimilar characters as the Central Americans who actually placed the bombs in Cuba—and who are now serving long sentences on the island—and the Cuban exiles in New Jersey who financed the terrorist operation. Although Agent Vega is fluent in Spanish, a slight accent betrays his place of birth.
New Jersey money bought the bombs that exploded in Havana
To corroborate the testimony the jury heard earlier from Oscar de Rojas, Government attorney Jerome Teresinski focused his direct examination on Vega’s investigation of Western Union’s records, particularly the money transfers in 1997 from certain Cuban exiles in New Jersey to their recipients in Guatemala and El Salvador.
Before showing the witness a list of the Western Union money transfers, Teresinski shared it with the defense attorney. He also handed him a courtesy copy. Without looking at the copy, Hernández carefully examined the original. He went over each listing and began to make meticulous notes on a yellow legal pad.
The judge, the jury, the prosecutors and the press waited while attorney Hernández—apparently oblivious to the delay he was causing—continued to make notes. Her patience wearing thin, Judge Kathleen Cardone stared at him, lifting her head as if trying from a distance to figure out why the defense attorney was taking so long. “Mr. Hernández, are you finished yet?” she asked. This elicited a sudden shifting of papers on his desk and a flustered response, “Oh! Your Honor, I didn’t know that you were all waiting for me.” He returned the original document to the prosecutor, who was finally able to show it to the witness.
Teresinski approached the witness and asked him to count the number of money transfers that were forwarded from New Jersey to Ramón Medina, one of the defendant’s aliases. “There are 21 payments here to Ramón Medina,” Vega answered.
In the direct examination that followed, FBI Agent Vega described the electronic money transfers to Ramón Medina that were evidenced by the Western Union receipts from New Jersey in 1997.
The documents showed that Cuban American National Foundation Board of Directors member Arnaldo Monzón sent money to Ramón Medina. Other Cuban exiles in New Jersey sent him money as well: Pedro Pérez, Ángel Alfonso, Abel Hernández, José Gonzalo and Rubén Gonzalo. The payments ranged from $8,000 to $2,000 individually, all within the time frame of the bombings in Havana, one of which killed the young Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, the son of Ora and Giustino Di Celmo.
The defense counsel’s counsel gets confused
Western Union documents show that the New Jersey co-conspirators transferred some of the money between April and May of 1997. “Your Honor, I object to the introduction of those receipts,” said a very agitated Arturo Hernández. “These exhibits go beyond the scope.”
Judge Cardone told him that she didn’t understand his objection, and Hernández rapidly explained. “The evidence we have thus far is that the first bomb exploded in Havana in July—rather than April—at the Aché nightclub in the Hotel Cohiba,” said Hernández, butchering the pronunciations.
Teresinski scrambled from his seat to clarify the record for attorney Hernández, but he need not have bothered. Judge Cardone did it for him. “The testimony from the Cuban inspector, Hernández Caballero, established that the first explosion was at the Aché nightclub in the Hotel Cohíba on April 12, 1997,” she said. Hernández begged the Court’s pardon for his confusion, and the judge called a much-needed recess for lunch.
Posada needs a tetanus shot
Before we left for lunch, defense attorney Felipe Millán told the judge that Posada Carriles had an important doctor’s appointment for a tetanus shot in the afternoon. He asked the judge to end the day’s proceedings earlier than usual. “A rusty rail in my office cut his hand,” said Millán.
“All right,” said Judge Cardone. “We’ll end at 4:00 p.m., so the defendant can get his tetanus shot.”
The lunch hour turned into two and a half hours. We did not begin again until 2:44 p.m., and even so, Judge Cardone dismissed everyone at 3:30 p.m. It’s no wonder that this case is never ending: two consecutive days off for various reasons, plus long lunch breaks combined with early dismissals for vaccinations and other matters.
The man from U.N.C.L.E.
After the lunch recess, FBI Agent Vega resumed his testimony regarding the payments that Posada Carriles’ collaborators in New Jersey sent to José Alvarez in Guatemala.
José Álvarez is Posada Carriles’ friend and a co-conspirator in this case. Born in Cuba, Álvarez worked in Guatemala in 1997 for a Tampa company named WRB. WRB had a contract with a power plant near the small eastern city of Chiquimula.
One of the key pieces of evidence that the Government is expected to introduce shortly is a fax that Posada Carriles sent from El Salvador to José Álvarez in Guatemala in August 1997. In it he provided details of the money transfers that would arrive from New Jersey. He signed the fax with the alias “Solo,” inspired by the character Napoleon Solo in the 1960s television spy series, “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
The “Solo” fax instructed José Álvarez to collect four money orders of $800 each from Pedro Pérez, Abel Hernández and José and Rubén Gonzalo in New Jersey.
The money orders
“Agent Vega, I’d like you to review each of these records—one by one—and answer these questions for us,” said prosecutor Teresinski. “Who sent the money? Who received it? How much? To which country were they sent and when?”
The FBI agent examined the first of the records before him. “It was sent by Pedro Pérez. It was received by José Álvarez. The amount was $750, and it was sent to Guatemala on January 14, 1998,” he said.
He went over the details of eleven more money transfers—all to José Álvarez in Guatemala. Most were transacted in August 1997. They were from Pedro Pérez, Ángel Alfonso, Abel Hernández, Rubén Gonzalo and José Gonzalo, all Cuban exiles living in New Jersey.
Money from New Jersey for Chávez Abarca in El Salvador
Teresinski then concentrated on four money orders that the New Jersey co-conspirators sent to Francisco Chávez Abarca—Posada Carriles’ recruiter of triggermen—in El Salvador in 1997. FBI agent Vega explained to the jurors that Chávez Abarca received $3,675 from Arnaldo Monzón in Union City, New Jersey, on July 4, 1997.
Chávez Abarca also received money from New Jersey in July 1997, from Ángel Alfonso, and in September 1997—one week after the murder of Fabio Di Celmo in Havana—he received $800 from Pedro Pérez in Union City, Vega said.
Posada Carriles is Ramón Medina
Teresinski then showed Agent Vega the form that Posada Carriles filled out when he applied for U.S. citizenship. “Who admitted being Ramón Medina, according to this form?” the prosecutor asked. “Mr. Posada,” said the FBI agent. “He also admitted it to Officer Bolaños, of the U.S. Immigration Service, among other places.”
Upon hearing that, the jurors perked up. Two of the women jurors locked eyes; the male juror with the crew cut and earring whipped out his pen and furiously took notes. The rest fixed their sight on the immigration form that Teresinski made sure they saw on their television monitors. They stared at page one of Posada Carriles’ application for naturalization, which was introduced into evidence weeks ago. In answer to the question asking what others names he had used, the defendant had written “Ramón Medina.”
Posada: “The FBI doesn’t bother me”
In an interview he granted in 1997 to the journalist Ann Louise Bardach, of the New York Times, Posada Carriles said, “As you can see, the FBI and the CIA do not bother me, and I am neutral with them.”
This may have been true in 1997, but since 2005 FBI Agent Omar Vega has doggedly pursued him. Agent Vega’s testimony in El Paso links Posada Carriles to the bombing campaign against Cuba in 1997.
Cuba airs a television program called Las Razones de Cuba [Cuba’s Reasons] that documents the country’s claims that Cuban exiles have been waging a 50-year-old dirty war against her from U.S. shores.
Today in El Paso, the FBI proved that “Cuba’s Reasons” are true. Maybe that’s why Posada Carriles has been complaining so much about feeling betrayed by the Government that trained and protected him all these years.
Government documents filed in federal court here show that the U.S. government trained Posada Carriles and that he was a paid asset of the CIA. The documents also reveal Posada Carriles’ involvement with Iran-Contra and with the U.S Army. Not all the documents have been declassified, however. Despite demands from the defendant that the Government declassify them, important documents that detail his work for the CIA in Latin American remain sealed.
Evidence, logic and the right thing to do
If the White House were to loosen the reins on the Justice Department, then perhaps the FBI’s investigation could be carried to its logical conclusion: an extradition to Venezuela for 73 counts of first-degree murder for downing a passenger plane in 1976 and an indictment for the first-degree murder of Fabio Di Celmo in 1997. The evidence presented until now in El Paso shows that Posada Carriles is much more than a liar.
Blowing up a plane full of passengers in midair is terrorism. Orchestrating a series of bombings at tourist hotels and restaurants is also terrorism. The U.S. Department of Justice ought to do the right thing and prosecute Luis Posada Carriles for murder and terrorism.
Merely charging him with lying doesn’t begin to make restitution to the survivors of the people killed by the defendant’s actions. It leaves the survivors doubly bereft: of their loved ones and of the requirements of justice.
More closed-door sessions
Before proceedings began this morning, the judge held yet another closed-door session in court. Not even the defendant was allowed to be present. The judge also excluded the interpreters, the secretaries, assistants, guards, bailiffs, members of the press and one of the defense attorneys—Felipe Millán.
The session lasted a little less than an hour. We do not know what was discussed, but we do know that they were arguing about the release of certain classified documents that the Government has thus far refused to declassify for national security reasons.
Posada doesn’t want the jury to hear Tony Álvarez
After the sealed hearing, the defense attorney, Felipe Millán, argued fiercely that the judge not allow the testimony of Antonio (Tony) Jorge Álvarez. “We have not been able to adequately prepare ourselves to properly impeach Álvarez’s testimony, because we haven’t received all the information that the Government has about the witness,” argued an emotional defense attorney.
“The one responsible for the bombs in Cuba is Tony Álvarez,” said the defense attorney, practically shouting.
The judge has seen the defense go down this road before. Initially, Posada Carriles accused the “Castro regime” of setting the bombs in Havana, and then he accused the U.S. government, and now Tony Álvarez—a Cuban businessman who lives in Tampa.
But only Posada Carriles has boasted to the press of being the mastermind behind the series of bombings. Moreover, Posada Carriles is the one to whom the Miami exiles pay homage at numerous banquets. Why do they honor him in Miami, if he has done nothing?
Teresinski: Who had the explosives in hand?
Teresinski rose to respond to Millán. “This defendant,” he said, pointing at Posada Carriles, “has boasted about his role in the bombings.”
Teresinski continued, “Mr. Millán has slung a lot of arrows at the United States today. Counsel’s hyperbole and emotional pleas to the court should not translate into the exclusion of Tony Alvarez’s testimony.”
Fixing his eyes directly on Posada Carriles who sat with a carefree look on his face, Teresinski asked, “Who had the explosives in hand and who transferred them?” The prosecutor answered his own question, “That man right there. There is no evidence whatsoever that Tony Álvarez had anything to do with the bombs.”
Millán stood up, approached the podium and still very emotional, said to Judge Cardone: “Your Honor, one of the reports that we’ve received from the government says that Tony Álvarez possibly had a relationship with the daughter of Fidel Castro’s sister.”
I don’t know if the judge said to herself, “So what?” but she ruled in favor of allowing Tony Álvarez to testify.
A star witness on the horizon
If what the FBI said is true, Tony Álvarez will be a star witness. He will testify that he saw Posada Carriles personally assemble at least one of the bombs sent to Havana in 1997, and that he heard the defendant admit he knew how to transport the explosives to Cuba.
Also, Tony Álvarez is the one who intercepted the “Solo” fax that corroborates the FBI agent’s testimony regarding the thousands of dollars that several Cubans exiles in New Jersey sent to Posada Carriles and his co-conspirators in Central America for the bombing campaign against Cuba.
José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.
Translated by Machetera and Manuel Talens. They are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity.
Spanish language version:http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2011/03/03/