|Luis Posada Carriles is seen by some as a Cuban patriot.|
DORAL, Fla. — A Cuban exile and former CIA operative will go on trial this week in federal court in Austin, Texas, on charges stemming from the bombing of Havana hotels a decade ago that killed an Italian tourist.
For some Cuban exiles, avowed militant Luis Posada Carriles is a patriot who has long battled a fearsome oppressor, Fidel Castro. To his foes, Posada is a dangerous force responsible for the hotel bombings, assassination attempts on Castro, and one of the deadliest airliner explosions prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
For others, the 82-year-old is simply a harmless relic living out his twilight, but he remains a lightning rod in much of Latin America.
Jury selection began yesterday in the trial. The Texas case likely marks the last opportunity for Posada to be tried in the bombings or any other terror crime.
Publicly, Posada has remained defiant. “If Castro came through the door, I’d kill him, not because I hate him but because I’d kill a cockroach too,’’ he said during a series of interviews from the Florida home where he has stayed since he was released on bail in 2007.
Privately, the fear of a long prison sentence has weighed heavily.
Posada was arrested in 2005 on charges of lying about how he arrived in the United States, and about whether he tried to cover up involvement in the 1997 hotel bombings so he could obtain US citizenship.
Cuba contends Posada hired two men to carry out the hotel attacks as part of a plot to hurt tourism on the communist island. US prosecutors have filed detailed FBI documents linking Posada to the bombings.
The trial also could underscore what critics consider the lax treatment Posada has received compared to others accused of orchestrating terrorist acts outside the United States, and it will likely antagonize some of Miami’s politically powerful Cuban-Americans.
Posada claimed to have sneaked across the Mexican border into Texas. Prosecutors say he actually arrived in Miami on the boat of a longtime benefactor using a fake passport.
Although he pleaded not guilty, Posada did not deny prosecutors’ version.