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By Michael E. Miller
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But the plan abruptly fell apart. The driver, trying to wedge the ambassador's car into a tight spot, bumped into the car in front. With an audible clatter, Arocena's carefully crafted bomb bounced to the asphalt. The driver got out to investigate and quickly ran into the house. Moments later, Arocena and Remón watched from their lookout in the rental car as the ambassador emerged with another man and looked at the bomb from a few feet away.
"Do it," Remón whispered. "He's close enough."
Arocena looked up the street. Less than 100 yards away, schoolchildren crowded a playground, filing in for the day's classes. Pedestrians wandered the street. Arocena wavered. He put the remote away.
Though they failed to kill Cuba's ambassador, a few months later Arocena succeeded in orchestrating another murder — a strike against Félix García, an attaché at the same mission. Using the same MAC-10 machine gun that killed Eulalio José Negrín, Remón gunned down García in his car on a New York street September 11, 1980, the sixth anniversary of Omega 7's founding and exactly 21 years before a more infamous blow against peace and security on New York's streets. On the same day, Arocena's group set off bombs at the Mexican consulates in New York City and Miami.
A few months later, Ronald Reagan took over in the White House and the United States entered a new decade of the Cold War. Arocena's campaign of terror seemed far from over. But then Omega 7 made a key misstep that within two years would lead to the arrest of every principal member — except "Omar."
As an early-morning rainstorm swept through the outskirts of Little Havana, a steady stream of water dripped through the ceiling panels and into a cluttered newspaper office.
Most members of the small staff had yet to file in at Replica, a moderate Cuban publication that routinely called for talks with Castro and normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States.
Max Lesnik, the founder and publisher, hadn't come in yet. He was used to being a political target because of his moderate stance — from his youth fighting alongside Castro to his quarrel with the dictator and subsequent ascent in Miami's Cuban community, he always felt the danger. Replica's office was no stranger to bombings, demonstrations, and scare tactics. More than one bomb had exploded near the building, and garbage cans full of burning gasoline had been left on the doorstep.
"I had been in the public life since I was 15," Lesnik says. "Working in the public life in Latin America, you're always in danger."
On this wet morning, in 1983, a janitor arrived and heard the water trickling to the floor. He grabbed a ladder, removed some panels, and shined a flashlight inside. It reflected off something unexpected: wires, molded plastic, and fuses.
There was enough C-4 explosive to kill Lesnik and his staff, demolish the building, and potentially damage a nearby elementary school.
The massive bomb was one of the last examples of Arocena's reign of terror.
The unraveling began in December 1980, when Remón had traveled across the Canadian border with Ramón Sánchez, another Omega 7 member, to bomb a consulate in Montreal. On the way back to New Jersey, the two Cuban-Americans were picked up by the Border Patrol.
An FBI task force headed by an agent named Larry Wack had been tracking Omega 7 for five years — since the first bomb at the Venezuelan consulate — and Sánchez was on their radar. When Wack learned about the Border Patrol's arrest, he also began investigating Remón; that led to Arocena, who had recently moved with his family to Miami and begun working as an insurance salesman.
Wack tracked Arocena for two years between New Jersey and Florida, gathering evidence to link his activities to Omega 7 bombings. In September 1982, the G-man met his quarry face-to-face outside a New York grand jury room, where several Omega 7 members had been called to testify. All pleaded the Fifth, while Arocena flat-out denied any connection to terrorist activities.
The agent took the then-39-year-old bomber aside in the marble hallway. "We've been working on this case a long time," he said. "You should start thinking about cooperating with us."
Arocena didn't respond. But two weeks later, he left Wack a message at his office: He wanted to talk. Less than a week after that, they met at the Jetport Inn near Newark Airport. "I'm here representing Omar and Omega 7," Arocena told Wack. "We want to build a bridge with the government."
The agent warned him it wouldn't be easy. "You can't just forget about eight years of ... bombings and murders and innocent people being injured," he said. Wack laid out his case: Phone records linked him to Remón, Sánchez, and every other known member of Omega 7. A car rented by Arocena got a parking ticket across from the Cuban mission hours before Félix García was gunned down. And he had been seen returning the rental car after the bombings at the Mexican consulate.