December 22, 2010 / 6:34 PM / 7 years ago

Salvadoran sentenced to 30 years for Cuba bombings

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Salvadoran man has been convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison by a Cuban court for his part in 1990s hotel bombings in Cuba organized by anti-Castro groups, state-run media said on Wednesday.

The court in Havana found Francisco Chavez Abarca guilty of terrorism in a two-day trial that included testimony by two Central Americans he had recruited to help him, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.

In statements shown earlier this year on Cuban television, Chavez Abarca confessed to the bombings and said he was hired by former CIA operative and Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles to carry them out.

The bombings, one of which killed an Italian tourist, were aimed at frightening away tourists from the communist island and destabilizing the government then led by Fidel Castro.

Chavez Abarca was extradited to Cuba after he was detained in July in Venezuela, where he was accused of planning violent acts ahead of congressional elections.

Granma said witnesses against him included two men he contracted to help with the bombings, Nader Kamal Musallam Barakat of Guatemala and fellow Salvadoran Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon.

Cruz Leon and another Salvadoran, Otto Rene Rodriguez Llerena, had been sentenced to death in Havana for the bombings, but their sentences were commuted this month to 30 years in prison.

Granma said Chavez Abarca was the head of a Central American group set up by Posada Carriles and the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro Cuban exile group.

Posada Carriles, 82, is set to go on trial next month in El Paso, Texas, in an immigration case in which he is accused of lying about his involvement in the hotel bombings.

His lawyers have asked to throw out evidence against him provided by the Cuban government, which also charges that he masterminded the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner in which 73 people died.

U.S. prosecutors in the Texas case asked U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone this month for permission to take depositions in Cuba from Chavez Abarca and Rodriguez Llerena, but on Tuesday she denied the motion.

In her ruling, Cardone wrote that she was puzzled by the request because it came so late in the case and because Cuba had already indicated it would not allow questioning of Chavez Abarca.

"Thus, the government's request, at least as to Chavez, strikes the Court as somewhat bizarre," she said.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jackie Frank

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