HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas jury on Friday acquitted an 83-year-old anti-Castro Cuban exile and former CIA operative, considered an archfoe by Havana, of charges he lied to U.S. authorities about his role in bomb attacks against tourist areas in Cuba in 1997.
Attorneys said the federal jury deliberated for three hours after a 13-week trial in El Paso and acquitted Luis Posada Carriles of 11 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud.
Posada, who had been active in anti-communist operations across Latin America for decades, is described as a “terrorist” by Cuba’s communist leadership.
In Havana, the government website Cubadebate scathingly reported the acquittal, calling it “Justice made in USA.”
Cuba has accused U.S. authorities of being hypocritical by calling for international cooperation against terrorism while showing leniency toward Posada.
Posada, who lives in Miami, is wanted in both Cuba and Venezuela, where he is accused of masterminding the 1976 suitcase bombing of a Cubana Airlines jet that killed 73 people.
“We’re obviously disappointed by the decision,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said. “We appreciate the jury’s service during this lengthy and hard-fought trial.”
Felipe Milan, one of Posada’s attorneys, said the defense “has always had the ultimate trust and faith in the U.S. judiciary,” and noted that a federal judge in 2007 threw out immigration fraud charges against Posada.
The case in Texas centered on allegations that Posada lied to U.S. immigration officials about how he entered the United States and about his role in bomb attacks against hotels and restaurants in Havana in 1997. An Italian tourist died in the attacks.
Salvadoran and Guatemalan nationals convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for the 1997 attacks testified in their trials there that they were hired and instructed by Posada.
The Texas indictment did not charge Posada with planting the Cuba bombs.
He was originally convicted in Venezuela of the airliner bombing, but escaped from prison in 1985. Cuba and Venezuela have demanded his extradition from the United States without success.
In comments quoted by Cubadebate, Jose Pertierra, a lawyer representing the Venezuelan government at the Texas trial, said the verdict “shows that in U.S. courts theater is worth more than evidence.”
Posada was arrested on immigration charges when he came to the United States in 2005, but a judge tossed out that case in 2007.
Reporting by Kristen Hays in Houston and Jeff Franks in Havana, Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Peter Cooney