Let Terrorist Eduardo Arocena Go

El exilio wants him out of jail.

Arocena worked first at a stereo equipment company and then as a dockworker, while Miriam raised a quickly growing family that soon included two children, Frank and Lorna. At home he watched baseball and taught Frank karate, which he'd taken up after his wrestling career ended.

"My life in New Jersey was one of peace," Miriam says. "I think it was beautiful."

Though Arocena had left Cuba, he hadn't forgotten his politics or his passionate hatred of Castro. In 1967, he moved to Miami, where for two months he trained in the Everglades with 2,000 other Cubans at secret military camps for an invasion of his homeland. He added automatic weapons and surveillance techniques to the bomb-making skills he had gained on the island.

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.

The invasion never happened, but the training would be useful to Arocena. On September 11, 1974, "Omar" was born.

In March 1980, inside a small room above the Fruit Meat King Supermarket in Newark's Cuban enclave, Eduardo Arocena practiced his deadly and precise secret talent.

His worn, calloused hands carefully molded C-4 explosive like Play-Doh around detonating cords and two electrical blasting caps. He wired the caps to a receiver cannibalized from a remote-control airplane kit and set the frequency to 72.24 megahertz.

With string and black electrical tape, he gingerly secured the bomb inside a box and mounted it onto a pressboard panel with two large, disc-shaped magnets glued to the bottom.

Arocena had spent years honing his bomb-making skills the same way he'd perfected wrestling moves as a boy. He had assembled dozens of these bombs, beginning soon after that September in 1974 when he became fed up with his compadres' blather about overthrowing Castro. Arocena recruited from New Jersey-based Cuban nationalist groups such as Movimiento Insurreccional Martiano and the Cuban Nationalist Movement. He called his new group "Omega 7" — Omega for "the end" in the Greek alphabet, and 7 for the original number of members.

Arocena's bombs would be their main weapon; Americans or foreigners in the United States who maintained relations with Castro's Cuba would be their targets.

One of the first explosions, on February 1, 1975, blew a hole in the Venezuelan consulate in New York City. The next September, Arocena and his followers attacked a Soviet freighter in Port Elizabeth, where Arocena worked.

A litany of targets with varying connections to Cuba followed over the next four years. In early October 1978, Omega 7 blew up a sporting goods store near Madison Square Garden.

On December 29 that same year, just after midnight, Arocena's group planted a bomb in the doorway of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. It was just hours after the first New York performance of acclaimed Cuban ensemble Orquesta Aragón. The bomb blew out glass three stories up in the famous theater and caused the orchestra to cancel its remaining Manhattan shows. That same night, they detonated another bomb at the Cuban mission to the United Nations.

After each of the attacks, Arocena's right-hand man, Pedro Remón, or another associate would call television and radio stations to claim responsibility for the attacks in the name of Omega 7 and "Omar."

Arocena would later say the bombings were meant to scare, not kill, but in 1979, his henchman Remón checked a suitcase bomb onto a TWA flight from JFK to Los Angeles. They wanted the airline to cease commercial flights to Havana. Only a premature explosion in a baggage cart on the tarmac saved the passengers onboard the flight from a gruesome end. (Arocena later claimed his group had phoned in a warning.)

In November, Arocena planned the assassination of Eulalio José Negrín — and Remón pulled the trigger. The reason: Negrín belonged to a Cuban-American group that had negotiated with Castro to free 3,000 political prisoners.

A month later, Arocena and Remón were nearly caught while bombing the Soviet mission to the United Nations on East 38th Street in Manhattan. Arocena had built the explosive inside a suitcase. Dressed in raincoats, top hats, and fake mustaches, the pair approached the mission's driveway, lit a fuse, and slid the suitcase down the pavement toward the building. As they calmly walked away, they heard a voice call out, "Hey you!"

A policeman down the street yelled, "Stop!"

Arocena turned toward the cop, but as the officer approached, the bomb exploded, pushing clouds of concrete dust and smoke down the street. In the confusion, they slipped away unnoticed.

Using the bomb he had carefully molded in the Fruit Meat King attic, Arocena planned to finish an important mission. After stalking their prey for six months, he and Remón drove a rental car to the Cuban mission and quickly located a parked car. Remón crept to the front bumper and underneath attached the pressboard's disc-shaped magnets. The bomb held tight.

Just before 9 a.m. on March 25, 1980, the chauffeur arrived. He started the car and headed north. The pair followed, Arocena clutching the remote control in his hands. At East 81st Street, the chauffeur pulled up to the curb in front of a residence — the home of Cuban Ambassador Raúl Roa. Soon Roa would emerge, they thought, and the car would head down the six-lane FDR Drive. Then Arocena would hit the button.

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