As the Cuban flag was raised over Washington, D.C., on Monday, some 20 anti-Castro demonstrators gathered outside Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana to protest warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In Washington, a man rushed the embassy gate with red paint splattered across his shirt, yelling “This is Cuban blood.” But for the most part, protests in both cities were small and low-key.
To some who lived through a more violent period of anti-Castro sentiment in Miami, Monday’s show of opposition was paltry. In fact, it was exactly 40 years ago — in 1975 — when more than 30 bombings tied to anti-Castro extremists rattled across Miami, hitting everywhere from banks to the airport to TV stations. Even Miami Police Department headquarters got hit.
“Through the '70s, all hell was breaking loose in Miami,” retired Miami Police Department detective Jerry Green tells New Times. “There were a lot of pissed off Cubans who were mad at Castro. And it got dangerous.”
Forty years ago, Green was a 24-year-old detective working in the Homicide Unit of the police department. Then located at 1145 NW 11th St., the department was “open and free range,” allowing people to walk through without security checks.
On Thursday, December 4, 1975, a man walked into the building holding a cassette recorder that housed a bomb. He made his way to the back of the first floor and up the stairs, and placed the case on a filing cabinet outside the Homicide Office before exiting the building. Twenty minutes later, at 1:30 p.m., the bomb exploded.
“I was two offices down being shown how to handle a forged check,” Green remembers. “It knocked us out of our chairs and the ceiling tiles fell on us. I thought an airplane had crashed into the building.”
The explosion, which injured two secretaries but miraculously caused no deaths, followed a rash of similar bombs in Miami. In 1975, there were dozens of terrorist bombings in Dade County — up to 35 by some counts — mostly carried out by militant anti-Castro groups dedicated to the violent overthrow of the regime.
Two months earlier, in October, a bomb detonated in a locker at the main entrance of Miami International Airport. Then in December, eight bombs went off in government buildings, including the FBI Office, Post Office buildings, and the local prosecutor's office, as well as police headquarters. The bomb in police headquarters, which consisted of about a pound of dynamite, shattered windows and blew out a 15-foot section of the ceiling.
The MIA bomb and December eight-bomb spree were eventually linked to Cuban exile and Bay of Pigs veteran Rolando Otero after his fingerprint was found on a part of the MIA locker that housed the bomb. Otero was the youngest man to fight in Brigade 2506, a CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles formed in 1960 to attempt the military overthrow of Fidel Castro. After his connection to the nine bombs was confirmed, police dubbed Otero the “mad bomber.”
“It was a way to make a statement, a cowardly way to send a message to Fidel,” Green says. “But why would you bomb government buildings? Fidel had to be rolling on the ground when he learned this.”
Yet the strong anti-communist fervor in Miami and across the U.S., made Otero a hero in some circles for his militant anti-Castro agenda. After the bombings, he became well-known in Little Havana, embraced even by then-Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre according to Miami Herald clips in the aftermath.
“Employees of the CIA knew who was doing these bombings,” Green says. “But because of the relationship, they weren’t reporting it. No CIA agent ever went to court and testified against these criminals.”
Otero was acquitted on federal charges but later convicted by a state court. After beginning his sentence in 1982, Otero was released in 1989. Seven months after his release, though, he showed up at the office of attorney Ronald Dresnick, who had handled Otero's unsuccessful civil rights lawsuit against the county, and held a gun to the attorney’s neck. Otero forced Dresnick to withdraw money and then disappeared.
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After five years, police found Otero in Indiana and brought him to Miami to stand trial on kidnapping and robbery charges. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison; today, he's held in a prison in Doral.
Though the anti-Castro sentiment may have cooled in Miami since the '70s, the memory of those bombings remains strong for Green. He's watched, rapt, as diplomatic ties resume between the U.S. and Cuba. He, too, hopes to visit Cuba one day. But he'll take full precautions.
“I don’t think some of these old guys are finished with being so upset with Fidel,” Green says. “A cruise ship to Cuba with relaxed security? No way in hell I’m going on it.”