The Burden of a Violent History

As the Elian Gonzalez media juggernaut began approaching warp speed over the past few weeks, some in Miami's Cuban-American community expressed displeasure with the portrait of them being painted by the press. The muffled grumbling became explicit on April 7 during Ted Koppel's Nightline "town meeting," beamed to the nation from Florida International University.

A panelist on that program, the University of Miami's Juan Carlos Espinosa, took off the gloves: "I think we really need to be careful that we don't continue to engage in Cuban-exile bashing, which is something I've been hearing a lot in the media coverage about Miami."

Similar sentiments have been voiced by countless others, from exile leaders to local politicians to Cuban-American celebrities. And it's true that The Elian Show isn't playing so well in Peoria, or Pinecrest for that matter. You know you've got image problems when the staid New York Times editorializes with evident concern that it appears "as if South Florida's Cuban Americans believe in mob rule."

April 1976: Severely injured WQBA news director Emilio Milian is assisted after a car bomb exploded beneath him
April 1976: Severely injured WQBA news director Emilio Milian is assisted after a car bomb exploded beneath him

Phrases like "mob rule" evoke frightening images of violence, which in turn sends Miami's damage-control specialists rushing to the microphones and insisting to the world that the Cuban-exile community is peace-loving, law-abiding, and (with emphasis now) nonviolent. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo in particular has been tireless in promoting that message. "Miami has been a peaceful, nonviolent community," he stressed to CNN last week. The historical record, however, clearly contradicts those assertions.

Lawless violence and intimidation have been hallmarks of el exilio for more than 30 years. Given that fact, it's not only understandable many people would be deeply worried, it's prudent to be worried. Of course it goes without saying that the majority of Cuban Americans in Miami do not sanction violence, but its long tradition within the exile community cannot be ignored and cannot simply be wished away.

The following list of violent incidents I compiled from a variety of databases and news sources (a few come from personal experience). It is incomplete, especially in Miami's trademark category of bomb threats. Nor does it include dozens of acts of violence and murder committed by Cuban exiles in other U.S. cities and at least sixteen foreign countries. But completeness isn't the point. The point is to face the truth, no matter how difficult that may be. If Miami's Cuban exiles confront this shameful past -- and resolutely disavow it -- they will go a long way toward easing their neighbors' anxiety about a peaceful future.

1968 From MacArthur Causeway, pediatrician Orlando Bosch fires bazooka at a Polish freighter. (City of Miami later declares "Orlando Bosch Day." Federal agents will jail him in 1988.)

1972 Julio Iglesias, performing at a local nightclub, says he wouldn't mind "singing in front of Cubans." Audience erupts in anger. Singer requires police escort. Most radio stations drop Iglesias from playlists. One that doesn't, Radio Alegre, receives bomb threats.

1974 Exile leader José Elias de la Torriente murdered in his Coral Gables home after failing to carry out a planned invasion of Cuba.

1974 Bomb blast guts the office of Spanish-language magazine Replica.

1974 Several small Cuban businesses, citing threats, stop selling Replica.

1974 Three bombs explode near a Spanish-language radio station.

1974 Hector Diaz Limonta and Arturo Rodriguez Vives murdered in internecine exile power struggles.

1975 Luciano Nieves murdered after advocating peaceful coexistence with Cuba.

1975 Another bomb damages Replica's office.

1976 Rolando Masferrer and Ramon Donestevez murdered in internecine exile power struggles.

1976 Car bomb blows off legs of WQBA-AM news director Emilio Milian after he publicly condemns exile violence.

1977 Juan José Peruyero murdered in internecine exile power struggles.

1979 Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment interrupted by gunfire and physical violence instigated by two exile groups.

1979 Bomb discovered at Padron Cigars, whose owner helped negotiate release of 3600 Cuban political prisoners.

1979 Bomb explodes at Padron Cigars.

1980 Another bomb explodes at Padron Cigars.

1980 Powerful anti-personnel bomb discovered at American Airways Charter, which arranges flights to Cuba.

1981 Bomb explodes at Mexican Consulate on Brickell Avenue in protest of relations with Cuba.

1981 Replica's office again damaged by a bomb.

1982 Two outlets of Hispania Interamericana, which ships medicine to Cuba, attacked by gunfire.

1982 Bomb explodes at Venezuelan Consulate in downtown Miami in protest of relations with Cuba.

1982 Bomb discovered at Nicaraguan Consulate.

1982 Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre defends $10,000 grant to exile commando group Alpha 66 by noting that the organization "has never been accused of terrorist activities inside the United States."

1983 Another bomb discovered at Replica.

1983 Another bomb explodes at Padron Cigars.

1983 Bomb explodes at Paradise International, which arranges travel to Cuba.

1983 Bomb explodes at Little Havana office of Continental National Bank, one of whose executives, Bernardo Benes, helped negotiate release of 3600 Cuban political prisoners.

1983 Miami City Commissioner Demetrio Perez seeks to honor exile terrorist Juan Felipe de la Cruz, accidentally killed while assembling a bomb. (Perez is now a member of the Miami-Dade County Public School Board and owner of the Lincoln-Martí private school where Elian Gonzalez is enrolled.)

1983 Gunfire shatters windows of three Little Havana businesses linked to Cuba.

1986 South Florida Peace Coalition members physically attacked in downtown Miami while demonstrating against Nicaraguan contra war.

1987 Bomb explodes at Cuba Envios, which ships packages to Cuba.

1987 Bomb explodes at Almacen El Español, which ships packages to Cuba.

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