September 4, 2003

The Miami Herald

Castro foe looks back on life, denies part in plot

By Frances Robles.

PANAMA CITY, Panama - The 75-year-old alleged Cuban terrorist may have come to the end of his road: a comfortable tropical jail with a lovely view of the Panama Canal.

Luis Posada Carriles, accused of fighting President Fidel Castro with bombs and bullets for 40 years, has lost 20 pounds, gotten skin cancer and still mumbles from the time most his tongue was shot off years ago. His career as CIA operative, accused bomber and fugitive ended three years ago, when he was arrested here on charges of plotting to kill Castro.

On Wednesday a judge began a three-day hearing that may decide the fate of Cuba's most wanted man, plus three other Cuban exiles, on lesser charges of possession of explosives and illicit association. Posada is also charged with entering Panama in 2000 using false documents.

A hearing in December ended after just hours when leftist activists filed an injunction seeking a reinstatement of the murder charges. The motion failed. Now the defense is hoping the current hearing will be converted into a full-fledged trial.

''My old tired heart has made enough rounds,'' Posada said in an interview with The Herald on Monday at Panama's El Renacer prison. "I'm going to eat my steak, drink my wine and struggle for my country. That will be my life's end.''

Depending on the outcome of this hearing, he could be sentenced to a seven-year prison sentence on the explosives charge, or he could be released, credited with time served. If he is released, he said, he plans to disappear.

He is best known for his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73, including a Cuban fencing team. He also claimed (and later denied) responsibility for the 1997 string of Havana hotel bombings, and he has been accused but never convicted of masterminding several conspiracies to kill Castro. The Cuban government press even pins John F. Kennedy's murder on him.

And here he is just outside Havana's reach, nicely dressed, sitting under a tree on the grounds of the penitentiary on the shores of the canal, with co-defendant Pedro Remón, a Miami salesman.


They want to tell their version of how they landed in prison. They act married.

Posada makes jokes that Remón winces at. Remón finishes Posada's sentences, reminding his 40-year friend what he meant to say.

''Look, we're not Saint Francis of Assisi,'' said Remón, once convicted of conspiracy in the machine-gun murder of a Cuban diplomat at the United Nations, who died in front of his son. "I'm just saying all these charges they say about us are not true. We are freedom fighters.''

Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 while prosecutors appealed his acquittal on the 1976 airliner bombing, and later lived underground in El Salvador, painting and allegedly hatching various conspiracies to hunt down his No. 1 enemy. Cuba and Venezuela have filed motions for extradition; both have been rejected.

In mid-2000, someone using a secret code phrase -- ''Without country but without lord'' -- telephoned him, reporting that Cuban Intelligence Directorate Chief Gen. Eduardo Delgado wanted to defect. But he would do so only if Posada was there to guarantee his safety.

''How many people have defected from Cuba? They didn't need four or five people to help them, '' said a Cuban government official monitoring this week's hearing.

The plan was hatched to pick up Delgado at the Ibero-American Summit that November in Panama City. Helping Posada were to be Remón; Gaspar Jiménez, a Miamian who served time for the attempted kidnapping and murder of Cuban diplomats in Mexico, and Guillermo Novo, whose conviction in the 1976 murder of a Chilean diplomat in Washington was overturned on appeal.

''All of these men at one point or another were part of the terrorist establishment in Miami,'' said former Miami prosecutor Alberto Milián, whose father Emilio lost his legs in a car bombing initially linked to Jiménez.


The four men were in Panama when Castro landed in the capital and made a stunning announcement: Cuba's most wanted man was in town in a plot to kill him. Panamanian police arrested the four, and later found a bag with 33 pounds of explosives that allegedly belonged to them.

Posada now insists he has never set any bombs and denounces terrorism. He has killed, he said, but only when both sides were armed. He denies reports from the late 1990s that he admitted to The Herald and The New York Times that he masterminded the string of Havana bombings, which killed an Italian-born tourist from Canada.

A Salvadoran man jailed in Cuba has identified Posada as the man who prepared the bombs and paid him to set them off. Other evidence gathered independently by The Herald also linked Posada to the Havana bombings.

''I think I did what I had to do,'' Posada said. "I'm doing what I have to do as a Cuban patriot.''

Remón added, ''No innocent person was ever killed'' by anti-Castro groups. He didn't mention the Italian.

Asked if he would kill Castro if he had the chance, Posada said sure.

''Just like if there was a roach there, I would stomp on it,'' Posada said, acting it out with his black dress shoes. "I'm old, but so is Castro. Castro is going down, we're heading up and we can help push him down a bit.''

Miamian afraid to go to hearing

By Nancy San Martin,

A Miami developer says Cuba has asked Panama for his extradition in order to keep him from testifying on behalf of Luis Posada Carriles, an exile arrested there amid allegations that he planned to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Santiago Alvarez, 62, said he learned of the extradition request from a Panamanian government official who urged him to stay away from the three-day court hearing that began Wednesday for Posada and three other exiles jailed in Panama.

Alvarez said he was set to testify for the defense, but declined to comment on what he knew about the Posada case or the case behind Cuba's extradition request, a 2001 attempt by three Miami-Dade Cubans to infiltrate the island. The three were captured, along with several weapons.

Soon afterward, the Cuban government publicly accused Alvarez of financing the ''terrorist'' mission that involved a planned attack at the famed Tropicana nightclub and recruiting farmers for an anti-Castro insurgency.

''I should be there [Panama] but I can't risk being jailed,'' Alvarez said. "Castro is using international law to limit the movement of people he considers enemies.''

Man who stole plane to Cuba is arrested

Associated Press

A Nevada man was ordered held without bail Wednesday in Miami for allegedly violating probation imposed after he stole a plane in the Keys and crash-landed on the Cuban coast two years ago.

When Milo John Reese did not return home from work last week, his wife discovered the family car was at the Reno airport and that he had booked a flight for himself.

Reese, 57, was not allowed to leave Nevada but was arrested after traveling to Florida. He had served a six-month prison sentence and lived temporarily at a halfway house before moving home in July.

A report by his probation officer listed a similar round of problems in June. Reese left the halfway house without permission and showed up at the federal public defender's office in Miami.

Concerns were raised about Reese's mental competency after Cuba sent him back for prosecution. He was getting mental health counseling in Reno and was required to account for his prescription medication as conditions of probation.

Reese has a history of disappearing and once faked his death in Nevada.

His attorney said at the time that Reese was afraid to land once he took off. But Monroe County investigators found a note in his car saying he planned to fly to Cuba and to "try to kidnap Fidel Castro.''

Controversial dealer closes his art gallery

By Jay Weaver And Luisa Yanez.

Faced with mounting financial and legal troubles, a prominent art dealer accused of selling fake Cuban paintings shut down his Coral Gables gallery over the Labor Day weekend.

José Martínez-Cañas acknowledged in court papers that his gallery, Elite Fine Art, owes almost $200,000 to more than a dozen artists formerly from Cuba as well as others from Panama, Colombia and Chile.

He disclosed that the gallery owes creditors almost $656,000 -- including $41,750 in back wages to himself. That's about $100,000 more than he listed as assets in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court petition to liquidate his business.

Martínez-Cañas, 66, refused to say why he closed his gallery at 3140 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

''I don't want to comment at all,'' he said by phone from his Coral Gables home. His two attorneys did not return calls.

The gallery, which opened in 1987, was a pioneer in Latin American art. For the past two decades, Martínez-Cañas carved out a figure as a sophisticated arbiter of artistic Hispanic culture.

But earlier this year, his gallery was sued twice for allegedly selling two forged paintings of the late Cuban modernist masters Amelia Peláez and Mario Carreño.

The two buyers further claimed that Martínez-Cañas gave them fake certificates of authenticity, purportedly signed by a Cuban museum curator who specializes in the Vanguardia movement that predated the Castro revolution. The curator, Ramón Vázquez Díaz, has denied signing the certificates, records show.

Coral Gables attorney Roberto Martínez is representing a Miami Beach collector who claims he was duped when he bought a questionable Peláez painting for $135,000 from Martínez-Cañas. The lawyer said the closing of the gallery will prevent other buyers from having similar experiences.

''This is the forged art equivalent of a Ponzi scheme,'' Martínez said. "It couldn't last. He did it too frequently.''

Martinez's client, Timothy Heuer, a real estate investor, is listed among people who allegedly owe money to Elite Fine Art. His debt: $130,650.

But Martínez said Heuer owes the gallery nothing. He said that after Heuer confronted Martínez-Cañas about his purported Peláez painting, the gallery owner refused to reimburse him. Instead, he offered to swap another painting by the late Antonio Gattorno.

Heuer refused to accept the exchange.

''This guy is shameless,'' said Martínez, a former U.S. attorney in Miami.

Another lawyer, Yvette Murphy, is representing an Ecuadorean insurance executive who paid $150,000 for the alleged Carreño painting from Martínez-Cañas. She said the now-defunct gallery cannot hide from its creditors.

Murphy said she is familiar with several other collectors who are ''concerned'' because they have purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in artwork from Martinez-Cañas' gallery. They are trying to verify the authenticity of their paintings through scientific tests, art experts and ownership history.


Joel Tabas, a Miami lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy law, said Martínez-Cañas' gallery liquidation in state court would face less scrutiny than in federal court. But he said that while the gallery's dissolution would appear to shield it from a lawsuit judgment, that may not be the case.

Tabas said disgruntled creditors could have the gallery placed in involuntary bankruptcy in federal court for starters. He also said Martínez-Cañas himself could face lawsuits if his clients accuse him of fraud.

''Anyone who makes a misrepresentation under the guise of a corporation may have personal exposure,'' Tabas said.

Martínez-Cañas, a Cuban exile who has a criminal history from a 1977 bank-fraud conviction in Puerto Rico, has his defenders.

Gina Pellon, 77, a respected Cuban-born expressionist painter who has had her works on display at Elite Fine Art several times in the last decade, had only praise for Martínez-Cañas.

''In my dealings with him, I always found him to be a gentleman,'' she said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her home in Paris, where she has lived since 1959.

"In all the years I dealt with him, not once did I have a problem with him over any of my paintings.''

She said she heard the news from Martínez-Cañas four days ago.

''He told my friends not to tell me he was closing the gallery, that he wanted to call me and all the other artists and that's just what he did,'' she said. "It was very upsetting to me.''

Pellon said her association with Martínez-Cañas was usually profitable for both her and the gallery, where her work always sold well. She had up to six shows there, and her paintings sold for anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

In court papers, Martínez-Cañas said the gallery owed Pellon $12,500.

''He owes me no money, but he does have several of my paintings on deposit which could be worth that amount,'' she said.


Francisco Mestre, who has purchased dozens of paintings from the gallery, said Martínez-Cañas has always been an honest businessman.

Mestre, who sells construction equipment, said he purchased a Wifredo Lam painting for $30,000 -- only to discover later that it was not authentic. Martínez-Cañas agreed to credit his account.

''To me, I still give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't know that the [Lam] painting was false,'' Mestre said. "I've had an excellent relationship with him.''

But one of Martínez-Cañas' chief competitors, Ramón Cernuda, who owns a gallery across the street, said he was surprised Martínez-Cañas had not paid his gallery's artists.

''If he has not sold the paintings, they're a consignment that must be returned,'' Cernuda said. "If he sold the paintings, he has to pay the artists.''

Grammy performer goes from rags to verge of riches

By Oscar Corral, Posted on Mon, Sep. 01, 2003 .

Tony Laurencio had been sleeping in his 1987 Econoline van for months, siphoning electricity for a lamp with an extension cord from his friend's Little Havana house.

His clothes hadn't been washed in days. The reading material in the van -- Keyboard and Future Music magazines and an operating manual for a synthesizer -- had grown stale. Laurencio wondered whether pursuing his dream as a keyboardist and songwriter was really worth it.

But then, Jorge Villamizar, lead singer/songwriter for the local music sensation Bacilos, dropped in on Laurencio at a commune-style house for artists known as the Monkey Village in Little Havana, where Laurencio kept his clothes in a friend's closet. It was early 2002, and Bacilos was getting ready to record its follow-up album, Caraluna.

Laurencio, 29, and Villamizar were old acquaintances from the Miami music scene. The band needed a keyboardist. It was an invitation that has led to this: On Wednesday night, Laurencio, Villamizar and the rest of Bacilos will stand on a stage at AmericanAirlines Arena to perform at the Latin Grammys, the ultimate gathering of Latino star power. They will perform Mi Primer Millon (My First Million) from Bacilos' Caraluna, the most nominated band and album this year at the awards show.

''It's just another gig,'' Laurencio says modestly, his beach ball-size trademark Afro swaying as he shrugs. "But I'm excited.''

For the unknown number of musicians toiling away in a quest for recognition in South Florida's rising music scene, Laurencio's tale is one of success, at least for now.

In the near-decade he has played in Miami, Laurencio has performed with some of the biggest local names, including Javier García, Latin rock band Volumen Cero, Oski Foundation, and the Richard Shepard Band. He also has jammed on occasion with the likes of DJ Le Spam.

''He is a person who has always seemed to remain positive about what he does, and that's infectious,'' said Andrew Yeomanson, aka DJ Le Spam, who rose to national recognition by playing a Thursday night gig in Little Havana's Hoy Como Ayer nightclub.

"I've DJ'd weddings and Tony would be there playing the ceremony music. I've known plenty of musicians who get bitter about the whole thing and quit. But not him.''

Since his high school days at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, where there was no formal music program, Laurencio played with local cover bands, frequenting proms and parties.

''I've known I was going to do music since I was 4,'' Laurencio said. "That's when I first remember playing music. I watched Star Wars, came home and figured it out by ear on my parent's organ.''


After high school, Laurencio stayed in Miami, stalking the local rave scene for the latest sounds in the nascent electronic ''techno'' music. It opened his eyes to a different Miami: pulsating beats spewed by keyboards ricocheting from speakers; ambient rhythms driven by dubbed sounds; hypnotic melodies twisted by a deluge of overlapping layers. All of it with a backdrop of young revelers dancing all night.

After a two-year stint in Orlando in the mid-1990s, where Laurencio dropped out of Full Sail sound engineering school, he returned to Miami, playing with a series of pickup bands and creating his own electronic music.

While his old friends had moved on to stable jobs, spouses and even children, his life still consisted of shopping for clothes at thrift stores, relying on charity for some meals, squeaking by on local gigs.

''Nobody struggled harder,'' said local musician Jesse Jackson, who played with Laurencio in a jam band called Elastica Beat.

Laurencio's parents, who are both Cuban-born doctors, worried that their son had chosen a path that would ultimately lead to failure, or worse, drug addiction and destitution. They encouraged their son to get a formal education, a job, and put music second.


''He does not have a life conducive to having a family and raising kids,'' said Laurencio's mother, María Eugenia Laurencio. "The life these musicians lead is very difficult. But he's happier playing his music and not having one cent than making millions and sitting down behind a desk in a company.''

Laurencio, like other musicians and industry insiders, complains that the infrastructure for live music in Miami is not good. There are few venues to play. Scouts for talent are older than in other cities. Breaking through in Miami, they agree, is not easy.


''If you had to come here and earn your living by playing live music, the scene is not good,'' said John Echevarria, president of Universal Music Latino in Miami. "For us it's a problem. Miami being the capital of Latin music generates very little locally because there is no local scene.''

But some of Laurencio's friends think that although there are few venues for live music, the dream of making it big is very real. Fabio Patiño, a Mexican-born drummer and singer, moved to Miami chasing his own musical dreams. He met Laurencio in the late 1990s, while Laurencio was playing with the Richard Shepard Band at the Marlin bar in South Beach. Richard Shepard played there Monday nights. Bacilos headlined on Saturdays.

''Musicians can't survive in other countries,'' Patiño said. "Here, with two or three gigs a week, you can rent an efficiency and just live and play music. Seeing Tony play at the Grammys is super motivating to other musicians in the scene. This country, and this city, give a chance to artists to develop.''

After working on their new album, Laurencio hadn't done anything with Bacilos for a while.

But earlier this year, Bacilos' managers approached Laurencio at Guitar Center, where he was working part time selling keyboards to pay the bills. They asked Laurencio to tour with the band.

''This is where my life changed drastically,'' Laurencio said. "I had to decide whether to quit my day job. And I did.''

Villamizar said Tony was the perfect match for the band.

''It's a question of fate,'' Villamizar said. "We needed a keyboard player, and Tony had the perfect musical and human qualities.''


When he's not playing with Bacilos, Laurencio plays with a band called Suénalo Sound System at Paco's Tavern in Miami Beach. It's a little-known venue, the kind Laurencio says is the lifeblood of struggling musicians. The lead singer, Itagu, who also is the lead singer of a band called Locos por Juana, said that while all musicians dream of success, it's not about the money.


''The artist that dreams of money will never make it,'' Itagu said. "You have to believe in your own movie, your own life. Tony believed in his own movie.''

While Laurencio is considered a success by his musical peers, he has not struck pay dirt. He gets a daily stipend from Bacilos when he tours with them and gets a flat rate for recording. No royalties.

But he is not complaining. He says the real dream come true for him has been traveling around the Americas with Bacilos on a studio's dime.

Still, he bought himself a new car a few months ago and has a solid roof over his head. He has donated the Ford Econoline van to the members of Suénalo, many of whom don't have their own cars.

''I spent some of the happiest days of my life in that van,'' Laurencio said. "I had to donate it to music.''


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