El Paso Diary: Day 28 of the Posada Carriles Trial
By José Pertierra
Although the Government only indicted Posada Carriles for lying, one of the lies is about a murder. Under oath, he denied being behind the killing in Havana of a 32-year-old Italian businessman named Fabio Di Celmo on September 4, 1997.
The jury in El Paso has already heard a medical examiner state that Di Celmo’s death was a homicide resulting from a bomb planted in the lobby of Havana’s Copacabana Hotel. The bomb hurled a piece of shrapnel that lodged in Di Celmo’s neck and severed his jugular vein. Today the jury will hear from an eyewitness.
The witness from Genoa
He said he was with his friend Fabio on September 4, 1997 and watched him die. Enrico Gollo is an Italian, born in Genoa, like Fabio.
Gollo is an elegant 45-year-old Italian. He has a meticulously trimmed beard and was dressed today in an expensively tailored brown suit and blue shirt open at the collar. “I live in Italy,” he told the jury through an interpreter. “I came voluntarily to El Paso to testify.”
He told the jurors that he met Di Celmo in the Pegli neighborhood of Genoa in northeastern Italy. “We were just 17 years old when we met,” said Gollo. Lowering his voice, Gollo added, “Fabio was my friend.”
Gollo testified that in August of 1997 he was on his honeymoon in Cuba with his then wife, Francesca Argeri.
Fabio’s father, Giustino, once told me in Havana that his son gave his friends Enrico and Francesca a honeymoon in Cuba as a wedding present.
Giustino recalled that Francesca sensed something terrible would happen. “Women’s intuition,” said the 90-year-old father to me. “She felt bad omens from the moment she got off the plane in Cuba,” said Giustino, “and she said so to Enrico and Fabio a number of times.”
Government attorney Timothy J. Reardon, III, conducted Enrico Gollo’s direct examination. He started by showing him two photographs and asked Gollo to identify them. “It’s Fabio Di Celmo,” said Gollo.
Reardon then asked that Gollo recall the events of September 4, 1997. Gollo said, “My ex-wife and I left the hotel at 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning to go do some shopping. We had tickets to leave that afternoon for Italy. I spoke with Fabio beforehand and we agreed to meet up in the lobby of the Hotel Copacabana to say our goodbyes. We entered the lobby at noon. Fabio was already there.”
I saw him dying
Reardon interrupted, “Was there an explosion?” Gollo said that 15 minutes after meeting Fabio in the hotel lobby, he felt “a huge explosion that left a very large amount of smoke” in the lobby. “My ears were ringing from the extremely loud noise and my ex-wife began to scream and cry. I instinctively threw my arms around her to be sure that she was all right.”
“Did you see Fabio?” asked the prosecutor. “Yes,” answered Gollo. “I saw Fabio thrown to the ground. He had a very visible wound in his neck and blood was rapidly pouring out of it.” The jury members listened attentively to the witness, some of them with their mouths open. None took notes.
The prosecutor then showed the witness another photograph. “It’s the lobby of the Hotel Copacabana after the explosion,” he said. Gollo pointed to where he, Fabio and Francesca had been standing. He also used an electronic pen on the monitor to circle the pool of blood for the jury.
“I saw him fall, all covered with blood,” he said. “Beside him there was a huge lake of blood,” he said with pain in his voice. “His eyes were open as he staggered beside me. But he shut them as he fell.”
Gollo told the jurors, “Two men took Fabio immediately to a clinic.” But “when he arrived at the clinic, a doctor came to see me and told me that Fabio had died on the way to the hospital.”
Giustino feels his son’s presence in Cuba
Fabio was born near Genoa on the Italian Riviera. His remains are buried nearby, in the small town of Arenzano. But according to his father, Fabio’s soul is alive in Cuba. “I’ve decided to live in Cuba, because I feel that Fabio is here. I feel him next to me here,” Giustino said to me last year over a cup of espresso at the restaurant that bears his son’s name.
Posada Carriles’ attorney Felipe Millán stood and approached the podium to cross-examine Fabio’s friend. His questions were aimed at trying to establish that Fabio Di Celmo died due to a lack of immediate medical attention.
“Do you remember if anyone provided him first aid in the hotel?” asked Millán. “Yes, a person at the hotel,” answered Gollo. “You stated that someone took Fabio to the hospital in a private car. Wasn’t there an ambulance?” asked the defense attorney.
“There wasn’t time to wait for an ambulance,” answered the Italian witness. “Fabio would have died waiting for one. Even so, he died on the way to the clinic.”
The legal strategy for the defense team appears to rest on putting the blame for Di Celmo’s death on anyone except Posada Carriles. It doesn’t matter that there’s no evidence whatsoever to support such accusations.
During the past two months, I’ve heard the defense attorneys accuse the Cuban government, the U.S. government, the hospital, a future witness, the doctors—anybody but their client—of having killed Fabio Di Celmo.
What’s certain is that the only person to confess to being the mastermind of the sequence of bombings in Havana in 1997 is Luis Posada Carriles. Today he came to court dressed like a Cuban lollipop in a light green suit, an aqua-colored shirt and a bright pink tie.
Vaudevillian appearances aside, this is the man who confessed to the New York Times that he was responsible for Di Celmo’s death and in the same breath dismissed the murder by saying the Italian was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and adding, “I sleep like a baby.”
The second battle over the Guatemalan passport
The jurors also heard the testimony of Guatemala’s Director of Immigration, Enrique Degenhart Asturias. “The President of the Republic appointed me to the post 18 months ago,” said Degenhart, a tall man with an oval face and a rosy complexion. Degenhart doesn’t look Guatemalan. His features attest to his German ancestry.
Prosecutor Jerome Teresinski conducted the direct examination. He wanted Degenhart to establish the authenticity of the Guatemalan passport bearing Posada Carriles’ picture and the name “Manuel Enrique Castillo López.”
Last month, Judge Kathleen Cardone refused to accept the Guatemalan passport as evidence, because “it lacks the authenticating seal from the Guatemalan government.”
Charges 10 and 11 of the indictment against Posada Carriles have to do with the false statements that he allegedly made when he denied using a Guatemalan passport under the name of Manuel Enrique Castillo López. Introducing the original passport as evidence is key to being able to prove the charges.
Teresinski did not delay. He showed the passport to Degenhart and asked him to identify it. “This is a legal Guatemalan passport,” the witness stated.
Hidden marks in the passport
“How do you know that the passport is authentic?” asked the prosecutor. Degenhart explained in detail the method that Guatemala uses to frustrate passport forgery. The pages of a Guatemalan passport, said Degenhart, include “two hidden marks. One is a picture of our national bird—the quetzal—and the other is the phrase República de Guatemala.” These concealed marks can be seen “if they are exposed to black light,” he said.
Degenhart approached the overhead projector, known as the Elm, in the center of the courtroom and with the help of the black light exposed the concealed marks on Posada Carriles’ Guatemalan passport for the jurors.
The jurors appeared fascinated. The prosecutor made sure that they could pass the original passport around and examine it. While Degenhart testified, they examined the passport, looked at the photo and compared it with the face of the defendant sitting before them at counsel table.
“The hidden marks can be seen with black light throughout the entire passport,” stated Degenhart, and he showed the jurors how they could see them. With rapt attention, they watched Degenhart demonstrate the authentication procedure on their monitors.
This time the judge accepted the passport as evidence. In retrospect, perhaps if the judge had allowed it last month only in conjunction with the testimony of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security officer, the impact would not have been as great. As it is, the self-assured Enrique Degenhart left no doubt that the Guatemalan passport was authentic.
Degenhart also testified about the Mexican visa on page five of the Guatemalan passport. “The visa has the same name and the same photo of Posada Carriles as does the passport,” said Degenhart. “The stamp that you can see on page six shows that the bearer left Guatemala on March 11, 2005.” This is the date when Posada Carriles entered Mexico through Chetumal to rendezvous with his co-conspirators, who brought him illegally to Miami on the boat named “the Santrina.”
Defense attorney Rhonda Anderson could not impeach Degenhart’s testimony, and he ended his testimony with a resounding legal setback for Posada Carriles, “An authentic passport officially issued by the Guatemalan government is what this is.”
Between the testimony from the Guatemalan and the Italian witnesses, Arturo Hernández cross-examined FBI Agent Omar Vega again, taking another stab at impeaching him. It didn’t work. Many of the questions made no sense. For example, defense counsel showed Agent Vega some photos of the Santrina cruising the waters and flying the Cuban flag.
Hernández: “You see the Cuban flag on the Santrina, isn’t that correct?”
Vega: “Yes, sir.”
Hernández: “It’s the flag of free Cuba, isn’t that true?”
Vega: “It’s just the Cuban flag.”
Hernández: “It doesn’t have the hammer and sickle, does it?”
Perhaps on the Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana somebody once told Posada Carriles’ attorney that the Cuban Revolution had imprinted the hammer and sickle on the Cuban flag. But anyone who’s set foot in the land of José Martí knows that the flag that flies above the Plaza de la Revolucíon in La Habana has cinco franjas y una estrella—just as it did in Martí’s time.
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.