Cuban state TV airs purported confession by Salvadoran charged in 1990s Havana bomb attacks

By Paul Haven, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

Cuba TV airs hotel bombing suspect confessing

HAVANA — State television on Monday broadcast a recently extradited El Salvador man confessing to a role in a 1990s bombing spree against Cuba’s tourist hotels, attacks that Havana has long blamed on Cuban-American exile groups.

The suspect, Francisco Chavez Abarca, was arrested in Venezuela on July 1, traveling on a false passport, and quickly flown to Cuba to face charges in the bombing campaign. Monday’s program was the first glimpse of him since then.

He appeared calm as he detailed the bombing campaign, wearing a white shirt and facing the camera. It was impossible to tell if he was confessing under duress, or why he agreed to participate in the program.

The program mixed Chavez Abarca’s confession with old footage of other suspects already arrested in the bombing campaign detailing their roles, as well as interviews with Cuban security agents and military personnel.

On the show, Chavez Abarca said he was hired to plant bombs by Luis Posada Carriles, an 80-year-old anti-Castro militant and former CIA operative.

Posada Carriles lives in the U.S., where he is awaiting trial on charges he lied to federal authorities in his 2005 bid to become a U.S. citizen.

Facing a deportation order, Posada Carriles was released from jail in April 2007 and has been living with his family in Miami. An immigration judge ruled he cannot be sent to Venezuela or Cuba because of concerns he would be tortured. No other country has been willing to accept him.

In addition to blaming him for the hotel attacks, Cuban authorities accuse Posada Carriles of taking part in the bombing of a Cuban jetliner and a series of attempts to assassinate former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He has denied involvement in the airline and hotel attacks and at least some of the attempts on Castro.

On the television program, Chavez Abarca participated in what was described as a reenactment of several of the hotel bombings, showing how and where he placed the explosives. He said he was paid $2,000 for each blast.

He also said Posada Carriles told him the hotel attacks were backed by the CIA, though he acknowledged he could not know for sure if it was true.

“Posada boasted that before everything he did … he first asked permission of the CIA,” Chavez Abarca said. “I don’t know whether it is true or not. All I can tell you is what he told me.”

The blasts at Havana hotels killed an Italian tourist. They came just as Cuba was turning to tourism as a source of much-needed cash following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Two other Salvadorans arrested in the bombings were sentenced to death, though the punishment has not been carried out. It was not clear when Chavez Abarca would be tried or what punishment he would face if convicted.

Venezuelan authorities accused him of traveling to that country to plot violence ahead of Sunday’s congressional elections, and later arrested an opposition figure in connection with the alleged plot. The opposition figure denies the charges.

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