By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Ideologically entrenched Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits have been calling one another "terrorists" since the term flared up into our modern-day lexicon three decades ago. But after the September 11 jetliner attacks, hard-liners here and on the island have taken the opportunity to inflame their long-running war of words to a new intensity.
Orlando Bosch, whose name is permanently associated with one of the first acts of airline terrorism, was feeling pretty cranky about the situation one sunny Friday morning in early October inside his beige stucco home in west Miami-Dade. Perhaps the white-haired pediatrician's ears were ringing a little too sharply from the declaration issued the previous day by Cuba's National Assembly of the People's Power, denouncing him for the "cold-blooded murder" of the 73 people who died in a Cuban jetliner bombing in 1976. Worse, the 75-year-old native of Villa Clara province had learned that the next day, October 6, millions of people would gather in plazas all across his former homeland to remember the victims. And no doubt he would once again be blamed for the despicable deed.
Cuba's Public Enemy Numero Uno, looking grandpalike in a white V-neck T-shirt, shorts, black socks, and brown buckle-strap shoes, glared from a wicker rocking chair in his living room. "I was absolved in civilian jurisdiction and later by a military court," Bosch growled, referring to acquittals that came during his eleven-year incarceration in Venezuela while being prosecuted for planning the bombing. "My participation in that act ...," Bosch began and then stopped. "Don't ask me. Ask the justice system in Venezuela."
The justice system in Venezuela sentenced two of Bosch's associates, Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo, to twenty years in prison. (The two Venezuelans were released from a Caracas prison in October 1993 after serving half their terms.) Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro Cuban who trained with the CIA in the early Sixties and also was charged with planning the bombing, escaped from prison in 1985 and promptly joined the Reagan administration's covert military operations against the Havana-backed Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. After his last acquittal, Bosch returned to Miami without a visa in 1988. U.S. authorities jailed him because he was wanted for violating parole in 1974 in connection with his conviction for a 1968 bazooka attack on a Havana-bound Polish freighter at the Port of Miami. In 1989, after deeming him a terrorist and a threat to public safety, the first Bush Justice Department decided to deport Bosch but was unable to find a government (other than Cuba) that would accept him. Amid lobbying from Cuban-American political leaders, the Bush administration released Bosch in 1990 after he renounced violence and agreed to be monitored by federal agents.
Eleven years later Bosch cannot conceal the contempt he still holds for his former comrade in arms. "The most criminal terrorist in all of the Americas is Fidel Castro!" he ranted. "We had to fight this communist murderer, and now he's claiming he's going to follow the United Nations conventions against terrorism."
Indeed the Cuban National Assembly had just ratified seven agreements of a twelve-part UN anti-terrorism accord, bringing the socialist island into step with its archenemy the United States. The Castro government had previously signed the five others, including the Convention on Preventing the Hijacking of Airliners, forged in Havana in 1970. Bosch returned to his loathing for the Comandante en Jefe. "Have you seen him on TV recently?" he asked, then sloppily moved his lower jaw back and forth (and along with it, the tell-tale reddish birthmark that lies below his bulbous lower lip). He was imitating Castro's drooling during the 75-year-old dictator's fainting spell this past June.
If Bosch's ears weren't ringing on Friday, they must have been on Saturday, when his name spewed out of Castro's mouth during a speech to a million people who had packed into Havana's Plaza de la Revolución. "History is capricious and moves through strange labyrinths," Castro began. "Twenty-five years ago in this very plaza we bid farewell to a small number of coffins. They contained tiny fragments of human remains and personal belongings of some of the 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese -- most of them students on scholarships in Cuba -- and 5 North Korean cultural officials who were the victims of a brutal and inconceivable act of terrorism." Especially sad, the socialist leader noted, was that among the dead were nearly all the young men and women of the Cuban national fencing team.
"Who could have predicted that almost exactly 25 years later, a war with totally unpredictable consequences would be on the verge of breaking out as a result of an equally heinous terrorist attack that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people in the United States?" Castro then spent several minutes reviewing a litany of hijackings, bombings, and assassinations that anti-communist Cubans with CIA connections had carried out before the deadly Cubana de Aviación attack. He cited the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and the Church Commission report to Congress on CIAplots against foreign leaders. He also mentioned the appearance in early 1976 of Coordinación de Organizaciones Revolucionarias Unidas (CORU), an anti-communist Cuban group that Bosch founded after fleeing the United States. CORU sent statements to news organizations two months before the Cubana de Aviación explosion warning that "very soon we will be attacking jetliners in flight." Castro then guided the multitude through Bosch's arrest, the Ricardo and Lugo convictions, and Bosch's eventual return to impunity in the United States.