US jury acquits Cuban-born ex-CIA agent

Luis Posada Carriles is wanted in Venezuela, Cuba for many deadly bombings.

El Paso: A US jury found an elderly Cuban-born former CIA agent, wanted in Venezuela and Cuba for several deadly bombings, not guilty on charges of perjury and immigration fraud.

Judge Kathleen Cardone read the verdict after the jury deliberated for three hours after the 13-week trial of Luis Posada Carriles, a fierce opponent of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

Tears were shed as Posada Carriles, 83, hugged his three defence attorneys at the end of the trial in which 33 people testified, including several flown in from Cuba.

"My path hasn`t finished yet -- the nature of the struggle has changed, but it is still the same," an emotional Posada Carriles told reporters in English after the verdict was read.

He vowed to keep trying to peacefully "restore what Cuba was once”, and added: "I hope that what happened here serves as an example to the justice in my country, Cuba, that unfortunately is under the hands of a dictator."

US prosecutors had pursued Posada Carriles for years.

Arrested and jailed in 2005 for illegally entering the country, Posada Carriles was released on bail in May 2007 by a federal judge in Texas who said the US government had tricked the ex-CIA contractor by using a citizenship interview to obtain evidence against him.

He was charged with 11 counts of perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud in the case, and had faced up to 60 years behind bars if convicted.

A Cuban-born Venezuelan national, Posada Carriles spent years allegedly trying to overthrow the Communist government in Cuba.

In 1976 he was jailed in Venezuela for allegedly masterminding the downing of a Cuban jet off Barbados that same year that killed 73 people. The plane had taken off from Caracas.

He escaped in 1985, but was sentenced to eight years in jail in Panama for a 2000 bomb plot to assassinate Castro. He served four years before being pardoned.

Cuba accuses him of several assassination plots against Castro, and of involvement in a 1997 Havana hotel bombing that killed an Italian tourist.

US officials have refused to extradite Posada Carriles to either Cuba or Venezuela, despite extradition requests, on grounds that he could be tortured.

In Miami, Cuban exile leaders were thrilled at the outcome.

"Justice has prevailed, even though the Cuban dictatorship sent witnesses to destroy the credibility of (Posada Carriles) and to denigrate the Cuban community in the United States," said Ninoska Perez-Castellon, who heads the fiercely anti-Communist Cuban Liberty Council.

"They cannot say that it was not a just trial with anti-Castro influences, because it didn`t even take place in Miami," she said.

Cuba "has been left without one of its propaganda tools," Orlando Gutierrez, who heads the Cuban Democratic Directorate, another anti-Castro group, said.

"This is a legal decision in a country where the rule of law is respected -- something that does not exist in Cuba," Gutierrez said.

Declassified US documents show that Posada Carriles worked for the CIA from 1965 to June 1976.

With a tangled past reaching back to the doomed CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and intelligence operations in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile and Argentina, Posada has been a constant embarrassment to Washington.

A key plank of the US case, was an interview with the New York Times Posada Carriles gave in 1998 about several bombings that took place in Cuba a year earlier. The daily quoted him as saying that he was responsible for planning the attacks.

However, in the trial Posada`s defence team denied the allegations, saying he does not understand English well and could not have made the statements.

Posada Carriles`s lead attorney, Arturo Hernandez, pleaded that the US Justice Department back off from further cases.

"Leave my client alone," he said. "It is time to allow him to live in peace in Miami with his family."

Bureau Report