By José Pertierra
Winter said its goodbyes to El Paso last night. Spring is here. But the equinox doesn’t bring flowers to El Paso: only dust, lots of dust. Forty-mile-an-hour winds blew through this border town this afternoon. Leaving the courthouse exhausted from an afternoon of cross-examination by Luis Posada Carriles’ attorney, Ann Louise Bardach confronted the storms from the Chihuahuan Desert that blew sand in her eyes as she leaned into the wind to return to her hotel.
This is her fourth day on the stand. Bardach is now confident and self-assured as a witness. Her husband Bob gave her a kiss on the cheek, and with a brisk step she took her place, ready for battle.
Her testimony today established that Posada Carriles admitted to her 13 years ago that he was the mastermind of the bombing campaign in Havana in 1997. She also testified that Raúl Cruz León, the Salvadoran who was tried and sentenced in Cuba for having placed several of the bombs—one of which killed the Italian tourist Fabio Di Celmo—worked for Posada Carriles. Under grueling cross-examination, Bardach defended the articles she had written for theNew York Times in July 1998 as faithful to the statements that Posada Carriles had given during the interview in Aruba a month before.
The censored version of the interview
The interview lasted more than 13 hours and took place over three days. But only six and a half hours were recorded, because every time they touched on details about what Posada Carriles called “delicate” matters, he asked Bardach to turn the tape off. Sometimes, said Bardach, Posada himself turned it off.
Before trial, the defense attorneys negotiated with the prosecutors over the censoring of certain parts of the interview that had nothing to do with the El Paso trial against Posada Carriles.
Posada Carriles is not on trial for terrorism or murder. This means the jury is not allowed to learn about the downing of a passenger plane in 1976 that killed all 73 persons on board. They are not permitted to hear of Posada Carriles’ service to the CIA that lasted more than three decades, nor of the era at the beginning of the 1970s when he was chief of special operations for the Venezuelan intelligence service (DISIP), nor of the violent operations he carried out for Jorge Mas Canosa in the organization called the Representación Cubana en el Exilio—with the training and support of the CIA—in the 1960s.
The jurors will also not learn here that Posada Carriles was a key player in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, nor of his secret relationships with the paramilitary organizations of El Salvador and Guatemala, also in the 1980s. The details of the assassination attempt on Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1997 at Isla Margarita are also beyond the scope of what the jury may be told.
To keep the jury members in the dark, the court edited the recordings from six and a half hours to two hours and forty minutes.
Three of the charges against Posada Carriles in El Paso have to do with the bombings in Havana. One charge of perjury accuses him of having lied under oath when he said that he had not solicited the assistance of other people to place bombs in Cuba. Another charge, also perjury related, alleges that he lied when under oath in saying that he had not made arrangements to send Raúl Cruz León to Cuba with explosives. The third count is for having obstructed a federal investigation into international terrorism by denying the statements he’d previously made to the New York Times in 1998.
The three charges are closely tied to the interview by Ann Louise Bardach in Aruba.
The jury clearly heard Posada Carriles’ voice admitting to involvement with the bombings in Havana hotels. The exchange went like this:
Luis Posada Carriles: In the … bombs in the … hotels …
Ann Louise Bardach: hm mmm.
LPC: …we tried … to put small explosives … We didn’t want … because we didn’t want to hurt anybody.
A few minutes further in the recording Posada Carriles told Bardach that Fabio Di Celmo is the “unluckiest in the world,” because the shrapnel cut his jugular vein. “We can’t stop,” he told Bardach, just “because that Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Alice in Wonderland
The defense attorney, Arturo Hernández, has the difficult task of convincing the jury that during his conversation with Bardach, Posada Carriles said what he meant—but didn’t mean what he said. The defense argument is reminiscent of the conversation between Alice, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll wrote that Alice’s solution was “to say what you mean…[or] mean what [you] say—that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Did Posada Carriles explicitly say to you that he had written the Solo fax?” asked Hernández. “Yes,” answered Bardach. “Where in that recording did he say those words?” he asked again. “Where did my client say, ‘I wrote the Solo fax’?” he added. “Isn’t it true that he never uttered those words?”
Bardach answered with irritation: “I asked him if he wrote the Solo fax and he answered ‘yes.’ Afterwards, we talked about that for several hours.”
“Isn’t it possible that he didn’t actually say ‘yes,’ but laughed instead?” asked Hernández.
“He said yes while he laughed. We’d been talking about his use of the alias ‘Solo.’ It was his favorite. That’s why he laughed,” answered the witness. Yesterday she’d explained that Posada’s favorite alias comes from a character in the 1960s TV program, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Hernández tried to plant a seed of doubt in the jurors’ minds concerning Tony Álvarez, the Cuban-American businessman who intercepted the fax from Solo in his office in Guatemala and who heard Posada Carriles say that he knew a mechanic at the Guatemalan airline who could take explosives to Cuba.
“Didn’t you suspect that Tony Álvarez might have been the one who wrote the Solo fax?” Hernández suddenly asked Bardach. “Frankly, no,” Bardach answered bluntly.
Realizing that he was not getting anywhere with this plan of attack, Hernández tried another. “Don’t you think it’s inconsistent that Posada should have written the fax but also told you that he didn’t know the people whose names appeared on the fax?” he asked.
“No. It’s not inconsistent in the least. Mr. Posada protects his collaborators in order not to hurt them,” said Bardach. “Furthermore he told me that he was the boss, the mastermind. It’s in the tapes.”
Raúl Cruz León
Raúl Cruz León is a Salvadoran who was convicted in Cuba for planting the bomb that killed Fabio Di Celmo at the Copacabana Hotel. The defense attorney tried to exploit Posada Carriles’ statement to Bardach that he didn’t know Cruz León personally. “Don’t you believe that it might have been a violation of the journalistic code of ethics to say in the New York Times that Cruz León worked for Mr. Posada?” asked Hernández.
At that, the witness had had enough. Bardach straightened in her chair, raised her voice and answered, “Mr. Hernández, he did work for Posada. Posada told me so himself—‘I’m the boss,’ ‘el jefe,’ ‘the mastermind’—the one ‘in charge of the operation.’” She added, “Lots of CEOs don’t know who their employees are.”
Who is “the guy”?
Hernández was persistent. He began to read the part of the transcript where Posada Carriles said that “another guy” hired Cruz León. “Another guy! It could have been anyone who hired him,” said the lawyer, without following his statement with a question.
Bardach responded with annoyance, “I know who the guy is, you know who the guy is, they [the prosecutors] know who the guy is. Everyone knows who the guy is but we can’t say who the guy is. You don’t want us to say who the guy is,” said Bardach. “Let’s call him Mister X. This guy would never have hired Cruz León without Posada wanting him to hire Cruz León.”
The “guy” is Francisco Chávez Abarca. He was tried, convicted and sentenced in Cuba for terrorist activities. Chávez Abarca confessed to hiring a number of Guatemalans and Salvadorans, including Raúl Cruz León, to carry out terrorist actions in Havana on behalf of Luis Posada Carriles. But last December the judge ruled that she would not allow Chávez Abarca to be deposed in Havana. The jury, therefore, will not learn of the important link between Posada Carriles, Chávez Abarca and Raúl Cruz León.
The defense attorney continued to press Bardach on the subject. “Where did you get that information [about “the guy”]?” he asked. “The entire recording is saturated with it,” answered the witness. “Posada was the boss. Cruz León worked for him. He hired Mister X. This is typical of paramilitary operations and organizations,” said Bardach.
“Play the whole thing”
“It’s not in the transcript and this case has to go strictly by the evidence. Where is it in the transcript?” said the attorney.
“If it’s all about the transcript, then why don’t you play the entire transcript for the jury? All six and a half hours,” answered Bardach. “Play the whole thing, including the parts you censored, and show them the articles from the New York Times as well,” she challenged.
Of course Hernández has no interest in doing any such thing. He prefers to confuse and obfuscate so that the jurors will mistrust their lying ears, and instead think that Posada Carriles didn’t mean what he said or say what he meant during the interview.
The attorney’s espresso maker
The case hasn’t gone well for Art Hernández in recent days. First, Tony Álvarez established that Posada Carriles was involved in the bombing campaign in Havana, and now Ann Louise Bardach has made it clear that Posada Carriles admitted to the New York Timesthat he was the boss and mastermind behind the terrorist campaign against hotels and restaurants in Havana in 1997.
Back at the hotel, things have not been much better. Hernández’s wife sent him a small espresso maker to make Cuban coffee in his room. “I turned it on and went to sleep. When I woke up, the room was filled with smoke. I had to change rooms. I nearly burned down the hotel,” he told prosecutor Timothy J. Reardon this morning.
Spy, lover and …
The cross-examination of Ann Louise Bardach is not yet finished. In her book, Cuba Confidential, she recalled that some radio stations in Miami had attacked her character after her articles about Posada Carriles were published in the New York Times. She said that they had called her a spy, Fidel Castro’s lover and a pot-smoking lesbian. It wouldn’t surprise me if Art Hernández does the same tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s cross-examination will be toxic and virulent. But as a Mexican poet said, “el sabor de la primavera, que es el sabor de la vida, mitiga la amargura de los malos momentos.”
José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.
* “The taste of spring, that is the taste of life, softens the bitterness of our worst moments.”
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/2011/03/22/diario-de-el-paso-bardach-en-el-pais-de-las-maravillas