Passion for Free Cuba Drove Bosch to Extreme
by Heather Dewar
June 29, 1989
Reprinted from The Miami Herald
For 31 years, Orlando Bosch, the baby doctor with explosive dreams, declared his passion for Cuba, his willingness to fight for her.
With bombast and bazookas, swigging antacid to calm a nervous stomach, he fought to free his beloved Cuba from Fidel Castro "by any means, of course including violence.
"We will invade the Cuban embassies and we will murder the Cuban diplomats and we will hijack the Cuban planes until Castro begins to deal with us," he once declared.
But that was before a Cuban airliner blew up in the Caribbean sky, killing 73; before he was accused in the plot; before the Venezuelan government locked him in a cell for 11 years; before his latest imprisonment in Southwest Dade's Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Now, a prematurely aged 62, plagued by angina, perforated ulcers and prostate trouble, he has forsworn his old rhetoric:
"Enough, say I, of complacent and obsolete objectives, enough of blind rage, unrestrained ambitions, indiscriminate passion," says the new Orlando Bosch.
"I am the first one to recognize in the past I have violated certain laws of the United States in my desperate fight for the freedom of Cuba. . . . If I cannot live in a free and democratic Cuba, then I want to live in the United States, where I can be a contributing member of society and where I will abide by its laws."
The U.S. government does not believe him. Bosch has been a terrorist, and is likely to remain so, says Acting Associate Attorney General Joe D. Whitley.
"His actions have been those of a terrorist, unfettered by laws and human decency," Whitley wrote in a deportation order June 23, 1989. "His personal history indicates that he will take violent action against any target if he believes it will advance his cause."
And unless a federal judge rules otherwise, Bosch will be deported sometime after July 14 -- as soon as the United States can find a country willing to take him.
Deportation is a death warrant, proclaim his lawyers. Despite his long years roaming Latin America unharmed, Bosch is convinced that Fidel Castro, his enemy for more than three decades, will stop at nothing to assassinate him. Only in Miami, Bosch says, is he safe.
Orlando Bosch Avila's life story is a tangled skein of legends, facts, murky reports from shadowy government informants, and rumors -- some of them created by Bosch himself. The definitive biography has not been written, and may never be. Parts of it only the Castro government knows.
The rivalry between Castro and Bosch began when both were big men on campus at the University of Havana, class of '53.
Castro, 26, was the law school's student body president and Bosch, just five days younger, was president of the medical school student body. Both detested the same man: Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Both were fire-breathers.
Students came up with a nickname for Bosch: "Piro," short for pyromaniac, because of his "fiery and explosive temper," said a classmate and longtime supporter, Dr. Alberto Hernandez. Even then, he was plagued by bad nerves and a tense stomach.
After graduation, Bosch went to Toledo, Ohio, for a pediatric internship. Castro went to the mountains of Cuba to plot a revolution.
In 1958, Bosch was in self-imposed exile in Miami. His quickening obsession with revolutionary politics led him to a medical practice in Cuba's Santa Clara province. He vaccinated children for polio and, in his spare time, organized clandestine support for Castro's 26th of July movement.
But in June 1960, less than 18 months after Castro came to power, Bosch turned against him. He returned to Miami with his young wife, a fellow medical school graduate, and their four small children.
Bosch had a 60-day tourist visa. According to the U.S. government, he was never granted permission to stay.
He took a job as assistant director of Abbey Hospital in Coral Gables, settled into a modest Little Havana house, bought a beat-up blue Cadillac. On weekends, he snacked on cottage cheese and fruit cocktail and watched his favorite TV show, Mission: Impossible.
That same year he was fired for storing explosives on hospital grounds.
His outwardly placid life fell victim to his obsession with La Causa, the anti-Castro cause. His wife supported the family, now grown to three daughters and two sons.
Suffering from bleeding ulcers, squinting through bottle- thick glasses, he slept barely two hours a night, devoting
himself to MIRR, the Insurrectional Revolutionary Recovery Movement, one of several groups he organized.
"Castro knows that our men are in the Sierra del Escambray, waiting. It won't be long before we strike," he said in 1960.
But Bosch was a loner by nature. His men were never many, and never reliable, said his former lawyer, Melvin Greenspahn.
"He always had around him one or two people who were trustworthy and truly dedicated, but beyond that the others were questionable," Greenspahn once said. "I think that not all of them were dedicated patriots. A lot were hoodlums."
There were attacks on sugar mills and factories in Cuba, each announced with triumphant flourish. Then the arrests, some almost comical, began.
1964: Miami police caught Bosch towing a homemade, radio- operated torpedo through downtown in rush-hour traffic.
1965: Federal agents raided a house near Orlando and charged Bosch and five others with trying to smuggle 18 aerial bombs out of the country.
April 1966: Collier County sheriff's deputies, looking for an escaped convict at a roadblock on the Tamiami Trail, stopped Bosch's blue Caddy. Inside the trunk they found six aerial bombs packed with dynamite. Bosch told them he was headed up the coast "to a secret base where there was a boat we could use to bomb Castro."
December 1966: Federal prosecutors charged Bosch with trying to extort $21,000 from a fellow exile for anti-Castro operations.
But none of the charges stuck -- until Sept. 16, 1968, when Bosch drove the Caddy to Dodge Island, and he and his cohorts aimed a 57-millimeter bazooka at the Polish freighter Polanica.
The shell hit the ship's armor-plated side, denting it, and splashed harmlessly into the water. A comrade-in-arms, Ricardo "Monkey" Morales, testified against Bosch. A federal judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Orlando and Myriam Bosch were divorced while he was in prison. His lawyer once blamed Bosch's single-minded devotion to the cause for the breakup of the marriage.
"He had gotten to a point where his family, his children, the responsibilities of normal life, were secondary to him," Greenspahn said. "He was so totally immersed in his political movement that nothing else was of any concern to him."
Three years into his prison term, Bosch told a parole board he was casting off his old obsession. "I have concluded that the international situation, and my health, and the needs of my family do not permit me . . . to dedicate any more time to political activities," he said. The board paroled him in December 1972.
In early 1974, someone gunned down exile leader Jose de la Torriente as he watched television in his Coral Gables home. Bosch said he had nothing to do with it, but added he was glad the man was dead.
A murder investigation subpoena landed on Bosch's doorstep. On April 12, 1974, he left the country.
His motives were patriotic, Bosch explained years later. "When I came out on parole I was feeling at that time that I should keep serving my country and my cause. I did not want to go to jail again. So, thinking that I must keep fighting the Communist dictatorship of my country, I should go to another place."
The place was Venezuela. Intelligence officers there knew Bosch had arrived when someone threw a stick of dynamite over a wall during a meeting of Cuban and Venezuelan diplomats.
Within hours, agents found him. They made a deal: Give up your arsenal and leave quietly. Bosch led them to an apartment full of weaponry and explosives. They confiscated it, and gave him a fake passport.
Bosch moved to Santiago, Chile -- safe haven for anti- Communists under the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Bosch lived in a military safe house in Santiago. Years later, the Pinochet government sent a memo to U.S. officials saying Bosch entered the country under the name Pedro Pena on Dec. 3, 1974. Secret police surveillance turned up no trace of anti-Castro activities, the Chilean memo said. Bosch "lived quietly as an artist."
The U.S. government paints a different portrait, accusing Bosch of sending bombs to Cuban embassies in Lima, Madrid, Ottawa and Buenos Aires. The bombs injured an embassy employee in Lima and a postal worker in Madrid.
Exactly what Bosch did between 1974 and 1976 is unclear. Just six days ago the Justice Department, relying on raw FBI reports and other intelligence information, labeled Bosch a "resolute and unwavering" terrorist. But an Immigration and Naturalization Service regional commissioner, reviewing the same 711 pages, found them unconvincing. The government refuses to make them public.
The Justice Department says only that Bosch was involved in the August 1975 attempted assassination of Emilio Aragones, the Cuban ambassador to Argentina. Although four men attacked his car with machine guns, he escaped unhurt. Bosch was also involved in the September 1976 bombing of the Mexican Embassy in Guatemala City, the government claims.
Bosch used Chile as a base for travel. In January 1976, his second wife, Adriana, gave birth to a daughter, Karin.
A month later, police arrested the new father in a new country: Costa Rica, where he was traveling as Hector Avanzo on a phony Chilean passport.
That was when U.S. newspapers reported a Bosch plot to kill then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, due in Costa Rica five days later.
Secret Service agents questioned Bosch. Costa Rican officials questioned him, too, and said he had no plans to kill Kissinger -- he was gunning for someone else, Andres Pascal Allende, the nephew of Marxist Chilean president Salvador Allende.
Costa Rica, like Venezuela before it, offered to extradite Bosch to the United States. But INS declined. It didn't want to make a martyr of Bosch, one official said later.
Bosch was deported to the Dominican Republic. There, in June 1976, Cuban anti-Castro groups held a summit conference in the town of Bonao. They created CORU, the United Revolutionary Command. Bosch later said he was its founder.
Bosch went back to Venezuela, arriving on Sept. 23, 1976. Although he traveled on another phony passport, his identity was no secret. A socialite threw a fund-raising party in his honor that drew 100 people and $2,200.
Bosch shared an apartment at a Caracas Hilton with his old pal Ricardo Morales. Like other anti-Castro Cubans who found Miami too hot for comfort, Morales had landed a job with DISIP, the Venezuelan secret police.
Among Bosch's perks were a car and a driver: Hernan Ricardo, a DISIP photographer with a passion for explosives.
Ricardo and another Venezuelan, Freddy Lugo, took a plane ride on Oct. 6, 1976. In Port of Spain, Trinidad, they boarded Cubana Airlines Flight 455. They got off at the next stop, Bridgetown, Barbados.
A few minutes after takeoff, the pilot of Flight 455 radioed, "We have an explosion on board. We're descending fast. We have fire on board. Request immediate landing permission."
Then air controllers heard a second explosion. "Shut the door!" the pilot yelled.
From the Barbados airport, onlookers saw the plane turn black and fall from the sky. It struck the sea five miles from shore and sank in 1,800 feet of water. There were no survivors.
Killed were 73 passengers and crew, among them about two dozen members of the Cuban national fencing team and five North Korean diplomats.
The two Venezuelans witnessed the crash and caught the next return flight to Trinidad. Police there arrested them. They confessed. In Venezuela, police arrested Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, the head of DISIP's explosives division.
Bosch was held in a windowless 8-by-12-foot cell at the Santa Clara military barracks. He painted serene portraits of his beloved Cuba -- pastoral scenes with titles like "Nightfall in the Tropics."
It took 11 years for the Venezuelan courts to close the case.
Initially it went to a civilian judge. She misplaced key court records and dallied for 10 months before deciding she had no jurisdiction.
About that time the secret police gave her a car and driver and paid her $200 a month for more than three years. Supposedly, it was payment for teaching a class. She taught three months.
While Bosch waited in jail, investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations came calling. They asked him about an allegation that he and other anti-Castro figures were in a Dallas hotel room with Lee Harvey Oswald in November 1963. Bosch denied it and the investigators found no evidence to support it.
Bosch also said he had nothing to do with the Cubana bombing, but approved of it. "You have to fight violence with violence," he told the investigators. "At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people."
The committee report concluded: "Orlando Bosch, a zealot, turned out to be the most aggressive and volatile of the anti- Castro leaders . . . well-financed and totally dedicated."
In 1980 he went to trial. A military tribunal acquitted him, ruling that most of the evidence was inadmissible because it had been gathered outside Venezuela.
Bosch stayed in jail pending appeal. A panel of military judges tossed the case back to the civilian courts in March 1983 -- and Bosch began a hunger strike, the sixth of his career.
In Miami, a tent city of a dozen sympathetic hunger strikers sprung up at Flagler Street and 22nd Avenue. Miami, Hialeah and Sweetwater all declared March 25, 1983, "Orlando Bosch Day."
It was an election year, and Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre led a delegation to visit Bosch in his Venezuelan hospital bed. Ferre said the group went to persuade Bosch to give up his fast, and came away believers in his cause.
Supporters said Bosch was near death when he broke his fast on the 53rd day with a cup of tea.
Bosch and his three codefendants delayed the new trial for two years, refusing to appear in court for a formal reading of the charges.
During the delay, Posada, the DISIP explosives man, bribed prison guards and escaped to Honduras. There, Eugene Hasenfus, the ill-fated American mercenary, spotted him. Posada was coordinating contra supply flights.
In July 1986, Bosch and the two Venezuelans came to trial again. The Venezuelans got 20 years each. The judge acquitted Bosch, ruling that he was not with them "at the moment in which the Cubana plane was destroyed."
Venezuelan authorities delayed his release for more than a year. Finally, in August 1987, they freed him. Bosch, still wanted in the United States for violating parole, went into hiding.
He came out of hiding last summer, explaining later, "I have a loving wife who resides in the United States and five American children with whom I want to share the last years of my life."
At 11 a.m., Aug. 16, 1988, Bosch arrived at Miami International Airport. He stepped off Viasa flight 820 from Caracas, wearing a navy suit and an open-necked blue shirt.
U.S. marshals met him at the gate.
CORRECTION (run 7/1/89):
In a story Thursday, The Herald incorrectly reported that in 1983, Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre headed a delegation that visited Orlando Bosch in Venezuela, while he was on a hunger strike, and said the delegation came away believing in Bosch's cause. Actually, Ferre told reporters at the time that the delegation came away believing the strike was an effective way of publicizing Bosch's cause.