Let Terrorist Eduardo Arocena Go

El exilio wants him out of jail.

Prickly late-fall air rustles through a block of blue-collar homes in Union City, New Jersey, and butterflies swarm 13-year-old Richard Negrín's stomach. It's late November 1979, and soon his dad, Eulalio José, will watch him play football for the first time.

He tugs on the corner of his black and gold Terry Bradshaw jersey and strolls with his father past gray row houses that are dwarfed by New York City's distant, hazy skyline.

They talk about girls while walking to a Buick parked in front of Eulalio's modest home on 10th Street. As Eulalio approaches the driver's door and Richard bends to unlatch the passenger side, a gray Ford Granada with a cherry red roof accelerates through the stop sign at the end of the block.

Photos of happier times fill Miriam Arocena's kitchen table.
Courtesy of Miriam Arocena
Photos of happier times fill Miriam Arocena's kitchen table.
An Arocena supporter gathers signatures.
Jacqueline Carini
An Arocena supporter gathers signatures.

Black ski masks flash inside the car. There's a spark and a sound like firecrackers popping. Richard falls to the ground. It feels like he was punched in the hip. He's stunned. Deafened.

It's over in seconds. He sits on the sidewalk in a swirl of gun smoke, staring at twisted chunks of metal and shards of glass, trying to decode their meaning. Then he remembers his father.

"Dad?"

The boy's soft voice pierces the eerie silence on the street.

"Dad!"

Richard rounds the car to find Eulalio lying near the rear bumper. Bright crimson blood pours from his mouth and neck, pooling on the cool asphalt. He doesn't speak as Richard grabs him and lifts his head. Something flashes in the father's eyes: relief. His son survived.

At 9:50 a.m., Eulalio José Negrín died in his son's arms. Five bullets had found their mark, severing a major artery in the 37-year-old's neck.

The barrage of MAC-10 rounds, unbeknownst to Richard, was the loudest broadside to date in a war sweeping not only Union City — "Havana on the Hudson" — but also Miami and the island 90 miles south of Florida.

Now, 30 years later, scores of Cuban-Americans in Miami still support the cause and consider the actions of its warriors — including Eulalio José Negrín's killers — justified. The feeling is so strong that dozens in South Florida and beyond have thrown themselves into the most quixotic of campaigns: trying to persuade President Bush to parole a terrorist named Eduardo Arocena, who was convicted of two murders, including that of Eulalio, as well as 32 bombings from Manhattan to Little Havana.

They just might succeed.


Miriam Arocena sits in her nearly empty living room in a small, two-story townhouse in west Kendall, clutching a simple glazed wooden cross made of thin plywood strips, and a clothespin Christ. On the back, scrawled in faded Spanish: "For Eduardo Arocena, from a political prisoner." It was a gift, she says, that a radical Cuban exile being held in Miami had mailed in the midst of her husband's trial.

"Every night, every night I talk to Him. I say, 'I know you will bring him back. I know this,'" says Miriam, now 64 years old, tears welling in her wide, expressive eyes.

Across the table, Dionisio de la Torre, an affable man with a graying goatee and a Bluetooth headset on his ear, explains why he thinks President Bush might consider commuting the sentence of a convicted killer and terrorist.

"We don't support what he did here, but we believe 25 years is enough time," says de la Torre, who owns a vending machine company and has a talk show on Radio Miami International, which broadcasts across Florida and Latin America on shortwave. "We also have the precedent that other people who have done similar or worse crimes have been released by presidents."

It's true. George Washington freed the violent protesters of the Whiskey Rebellion soon after the revolution. Seventy years later, Andrew Johnson pardoned every Confederate soldier. Richard Nixon let off notorious Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, and three years later received a get-out-of-jail card himself from Gerald Ford. Bill Clinton was tops in the realm of shady presidential pardons. On his last days in office, he wiped the slate clean for not only heiress Patty Hearst but also Marc Rich, a fugitive financier whose family donated millions to his campaign. More apropos to de la Torre's argument, in 1999 Clinton freed 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group that set off more then 120 bombs in the States.

This year, a presidential pardon for a Cuban-American could provide a needed push in hotly contested Florida for fellow Republican John McCain.

So for months now, de la Torre and a loose coalition of Miami Cuban groups — more than 45 by his estimate — have gathered on street corners in Little Havana and Hialeah, in front of Versailles Restaurant and in suburban Miami-Dade, handing out laminated cards with Arocena's face under the heading "Liberty and Justice for Arocena." De la Torre even traveled to Puerto Rico this month to meet with Cuban groups to gather support.

The response has been strong. Last month, dozens of motorists stopped at the busy intersection of SW 87th Avenue and Bird Road, studied the cards, signed their names, and handed them to de la Torre, who puffed on a large cigar and sweated in the median.

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