BY ALFONSO CHARDY
A brother of an Italian tourist killed in a Havana hotel bombing welcomed the federal indictment linking Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles to the 1997 attack.
A federal indictment of Luis Posada Carriles linking the Cuban exile militant to Havana tourist site bombings in 1997 shows the U.S. government is finally acting in the case, the brother of an Italian tourist killed by one of the bombs said Thursday.
''My family and I have been waiting 12 years for the U.S. government to officially link Posada Carriles to international terrorism,'' said Livio Di Celmo, brother of Fabio Di Celmo, who was killed in the Copacabana bombing. ``It's about time now that something is being done.''
Livio Di Celmo was one of several people who spoke at a telephone news conference giving a cautious welcome to the indictment handed up by the grand jury in El Paso Wednesday. People who routinely denounced the U.S. government under the Bush administration for allegedly failing to prosecute Posada forcefully suddenly expressed some satisfaction.
Some even left the impression the indictment was made possible by the change in administrations, a perception shared by some Cuban exiles who support Posada.
''It appears to come within the context of a new willingness to listen to Havana,'' said Mario Echevarria, president of Municipalities of Cuba in Exile, which is organizing an April 26 lunch for Posada to raise funds for his defense.
Cuban state media reported on the indictment, conveying the impression the Cuban regime was pleasantly surprised. The government news agency Prensa Latina and the Communist Party newspaper Granma said the indictment signaled a ''surprising shift in strategy'' by federal prosecutors. The Justice Department denied any political overtones.
''Indictments are brought only when the facts and the evidence of the particular case permit,'' said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. ``This superseding indictment is no exception. Yesterday, the United States sought and obtained a superseding indictment against Mr. Posada that added new counts based in part on additional information the government obtained since the first indictment was returned.''
FBI agents visited Cuba in the fall of 2006 to gather evidence in the bombings, and a federal grand jury in New Jersey had been looking at Posada's alleged fundraising for the bombings among Cuban exiles in Union City.
The superseding indictment did not charge Posada, 81, with planting bombs or plotting the bombings that rocked Havana hotels, discotheques and restaurants. It only accused him of lying in immigration court about his alleged role in the attacks.
The indictment charged Posada with perjury for denying in 2005 ''soliciting others'' to plant the bombs and arranging for a Salvadoran suspect to carry out the bombing that killed Di Celmo.
Posada could not be reached for comment. His Miami attorney, Arturo V. Hernandez, said his client ''obviously cannot be happy'' with the new indictment but has ``faced so many other challenges in his life that this is just one more.''
Hernandez said Posada intends to plead not guilty. An arraignment had been scheduled for April 17 in El Paso, but Hernandez said that won't happen and that motions and pleadings will be filed in court documents. Jury selection is now scheduled to begin Aug. 10.
José Pertierra, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents the Venezuelan government, said Caracas viewed the indictment as a ''positive first step on the part of the Obama administration'' in the Posada case. But Pertierra said the United States has to go further and indict Posada for murder in connection with the bombings and comply with the Venezuelan government's renewed demands that Posada be extradited to Caracas to stand trial.
He said President Hugo Chávez planned to raise the extradition issue when he attends the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. President Obama is scheduled to attend the April 17-19 meeting.
Posada was charged in Caracas in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviación jetliner off Barbados that killed 73 people.
Posada, who has denied any connection to the plot, was tried and acquitted in a military court in 1980, but the verdict was later annuled and the case refiled in civilian court. Posada escaped from prison in Venezuela before the civilian court acted. After Posada turned up in Miami in March 2005, the Venezuelan government demanded his extradition.
Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.