Let Terrorist Eduardo Arocena Go

El exilio wants him out of jail.

Arocena made no promises but agreed to meet the next day. After joining Wack at a nearby diner and eating a cheeseburger for breakfast, he invited the agent back to his hotel room. Then he dropped a bombshell: "Yes," he said into a tape recorder. "I am Omar."

Arocena then narrated the story of Omega 7, from its founding in 1974 through all of the major bombings in New York and New Jersey and the murders of Negrín and García. He wouldn't discuss anything that happened in Florida, to protect the names of his operatives there.

The agent asked if he was ever concerned about hurting the police officers or firemen who showed up to disarm or investigate the bombs.

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.

"That's all part of the war," Arocena coolly replied.

Wack worried about reprisals from Remón and other associates. On the way out of the hotel, Arocena grabbed the door and wiped the knob vigorously with the inside of his suit coat. "I am wiping fingerprints off," he explained.

To escape immediate arrest, the Omega 7 leader offered the FBI a generous gift: 600 to 800 pounds of Omega 7's C-4. Theagents agreed to let him return to Florida to help them find the explosives. With Wack and another agent in tow, he flew back to Miami September 28. The plan called for him to turn in the bomb-making materials and return to New York to talk with prosecutors.

For three days, Arocena worked with the bureau. But on October 1, he phoned Wack with ominous news: Remón had hired a hit man to kill him. Arocena was going to run.

For the next 10 months, he skulked around Little Havana in fake beards and wigs while planning several attacks, including the botched strike on Replica. Strangely, throughout his time as a fugitive, he called Wack at home in New York dozens of times from pay phones, often confiding about his bombing plots, complaining about his life on the lam, and bemoaning what he saw as an unwillingness by the U.S. government to confront Castro. Wack recorded the calls.

The last conversation came July 21, 1983, and illustrated both the anti-Communist fervor and the disconnect from reality that had defined Arocena's life as Omar. For half an hour, the agent pleaded with the Omega 7 chief to turn himself in, protesting that the FBI wasn't his enemy. Arocena resisted, complaining about "liberals" and the U.S. Congress and Castro: "There's going to be a war," he said.

"You know, you're being ... stubborn, Eddie," Wack said at the end of the conversation.

"No," Arocena replied. "I am a fighter."

The next day, the FBI arrested Arocena in his Little Havana hideout. Agents found an arsenal of illegal weapons: machine guns, semiautomatic pistols, and rifles — all with silencers — bomb-making components, knives, and the same remote-control transmitter used in the attempted assassination of Ambassador Roa. They also found Omega 7 stickers, stencils, and written statements, as well as the wigs and fake beards Arocena had worn while on the lam for 10 months.

In the six-week jury trial during fall 1984, Arocena faced a staggering mountain of evidence: the taped confession in the New Jersey hotel room, the recorded phone calls to Wack, and the testimony of several former Omega 7 members.

Arocena mounted a bizarre defense. He claimed the FBI had kidnapped and drugged him to obtain his taped confession. The phone calls to Wack had been fabricated and the arsenal in his Little Havana hideout had been planted by the government. Arocena, who had spoken fluent English while describing his life as Omar on tape and in phone calls to Wack, also claimed he could barely speak English and relied on an interpreter throughout the trial.

He repeatedly complained the government had erased his memory. "Under your direction, they are still putting drugs in my food. My mind is being destroyed," Arocena said from the stand. "They are trying to erase from me many things, because you don't want me to tell things here the way they are."

The jury convicted him on 25 counts — for Negrín and García's murders as well as 23 weapons charges. The judge sentenced him to consecutive life terms plus 35 years in prison. Even as Arocena denied every charge, he called the murder of the Cuban envoy justified: "If he is a Communist, according to my way of thinking, it is right that he was executed."

Asked about Negrín's murder in front of the man's son, Arocena said, "I don't think it should have been carried out that way. But I do think that if he was a Communist, he should have been executed anyway."

It's been 25 years since Miriam Arocena's husband was sentenced to life in the federal pen (he later received another 20 years from a judge in Miami for his bombings throughout the Magic City), and the indignities have been great for his slight, tanned wife. Only eight times in that quarter-century has she been able to afford trips to visit Eduardo. A few times a month, she gets five minutes on the phone with him.

He's been moved several times, but never closer than 500 miles from Miami. Today he lives in a new federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, more than 1,100 miles from his wife. The warden, Brian R. Jett, denied a request to speak with him, saying the interview would "jeopardize security and disturb the orderly running of the institution." Eduardo is now 65 years old and, according to his wife, struggling with diabetes and high blood pressure.

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