By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
"I assure you they will be out of jail soon," declared Alvarez, who helped plan the Panama mission and has visited the defendants several times this year. "The prosecutors don't have a case."
The prosecutors and their investigators, however, are acting like they do.
According to Ignacio Taylor, chief inspector of the PTJ's Explosives Section, his office received a call on November 17 instructing him to keep his personnel in a state of alert. There was progress in an investigation into the presence of "elements who planned to place explosive devices aimed at President Fidel Castro," he stated in an affidavit. He ordered officers to set up a dragnet near the Coral Suites Hotel. When he arrived at about 2:30 p.m., he saw two subjects walking toward the hotel. "After they noticed our presence," Taylor continued, "they crossed the street and displayed a highly suspicious demeanor." One of his officers asked the duo for their identification documents. Each produced a U.S. passport: Novo and Remón.
Officers held the two in the lobby. When Novo requested some medicine from his room, Det. Rodolfo Osborne escorted him upstairs. According to Osborne, when Novo opened the door, a voice inside exclaimed, "We have to leave because the police are here." It was Posada's. Fifteen years after his escape from a Venezuelan prison, he was in custody again.
Meanwhile outside the hotel, the driver of a red Mitsubishi Lancer, whom detectives later identified to be Hurtado, slowed as if to turn into the driveway. "But after detecting our presence, it sped off in a manner that was not normal," Taylor reported. Officers pursued the vehicle at high speed but lost it. Inside the vehicle was the Marlins bag containing the C-4 explosives, investigators later determined.
Hurtado told authorities that when he discovered the bag, he alerted his boss, Matamoros, who instructed him to dispose of it to avoid getting "mixed up in problems." Hurtado drove to his mother's shanty house on the outskirts of the city and slid it under her bed. At her insistence Hurtado's nephew, who told investigators he thought the bag contained illegal drugs, took it to his aunt Luz's house. She in turn asked her neighbor, Concepcion Rojas, to help her get rid of it. Rojas buried the bag in a nearby vacant lot, where police later unearthed it.
In an April 6 statement at the National Police headquarters, Hurtado maintained his innocence but did not convincingly explain his high-speed flight. "I don't have anything to do with these charges, because I have never tried to assassinate anybody." He was just a driver trying to make some extra money, he added. "It's true, I opened [the Marlins bag] and saw the radios and the plastic bags, but I didn't know what was in them. Later when the authorities inspected it and said it [contained] explosives, that's when I knew what was in the bags. At first, as is logical, and since I didn't know what these Cuban gentlemen were planning, I was afraid. But after the authorities ordered me to cooperate, I did."
Hurtado also told authorities that on November 15 he saw Jimenez with a black bag similar to the one that contained the explosives. But he could not say for sure whether it was the same one.
When New Times called Panama's First Judicial Circuit for clarification of the basic facts of the case, investigator Ilka Poveda said neither she nor lead prosecutor Argentina Barrera could comment. While they may have some holes to fill in, the accused have opened some of their own.
You might not know it, but there are parallels between preparing an assassination and planning a defection. At least that's what the defendants contend. Unfortunately they have yet to provide Panamanian authorities with any concrete evidence to support their defection story other than simply to tell it. Six months after his arrest, Posada finally gave a statement at the National Police headquarters on May 16. "First of all, I want to state for the record why I was in Panama," Posada began. "I came to Panama to receive a senior official of the Cuban government who wanted to defect." That official's name, he said, was Gen. Eduardo Delgado, the head of Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence.
Rather than offer proof, however, Posada veered into a five-minute tirade. "For over 42 years, my country has been subjected to tyranny. A million and a half of my compatriots have gone into exile and are dispersed throughout the entire world," he railed. "The Cuban people live under a regime of terror and hunger." He retraced his career fighting "Castroist subversion" in Venezuela in the late Sixties and in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala in the Eighties. He again denied any role in the Cubana de Aviación bombing. He stressed that he was the victim. "The Castro-communist publicity apparatus has implacably persecuted me, trying to blame me for everything that has been done to his regime," he grumbled. "Everything I've been blamed for all these years have been speculations by journalists paid by Castro."
Poveda tried to return him to the subject of explosives. "How was the plan to introduce explosives into Panamanian territory devised?" she asked. Posada said he was willing to answer more questions but at a later date. "I don't feel well right now," he complained.