Pot-Smuggling Bay of Pigs Vet Facing Deportation After Four Decades Behind Bars

Tony Basaro in aviation gear (inset) and with his family.
Tony Basaro in aviation gear (inset) and with his family. Courtesy of the Basaro family

The world was different in 1980 when President Ronald Reagan went on national television and said “leading medical researchers” had declared marijuana to be the “most dangerous drug in the United States” and it needed to be eradicated.

That, of course, was before cocaine became the most dangerous drug — then crack, then meth, and then fentanyl. You get the picture.

But that was the world that sent Cuban exile Antonio “Tony” Basaro to prison, where he remained for 39 years before he was released this past Wednesday to a Miami halfway house after serving the nation’s longest prison sentence for a nonviolent marijuana charge.

Basaro, age 84, is a former pilot who had been recruited by the CIA during the early 1960s to serve in the Bay of Pigs invasion. He is now facing deportation to Cuba even though medical researchers hardly consider marijuana to be the most dangerous drug anymore; it is legalized for adult use in ten states and for medicinal use in 33 states, including Florida.

But the federal government still views pot as a Schedule 1 controlled narcotic and considers it to have less medicinal value than cocaine, methamphetamine, and, yes, even fentanyl, which was responsible for almost 30,000 overdose deaths in 2017. Those are Schedule 2 drugs, after all.

Basaro was convicted in 1980 for smuggling 600,000 pounds of Colombian marijuana into the United States. He was sentenced to 60 years because he refused to cooperate with federal agents by ratting out other dealers, according to an NBC News article from 2016.

He said he made $1 million in two years of smuggling.

He was released after that draconian sentence was shortened. His family told New Times he is not able to talk to the media until after June 11, which is when he is scheduled to attend an immigration hearing that will determine his fate.

Basaro had been recruited by marijuana smugglers in Miami in 1977 for his aviation skills. That was a bit before the cocaine wars transformed Miami, as well as Hollywood, with movies such as Scarface and TV shows such as Miami Vice.

Basaro's family hopes his Bay of Pigs status will save him from deportation.

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Carlos Miller is a Miami multimedia journalist who runs Photography Is Not a Crime, an award-winning national news site about First Amendment issues and police abuse.
Contact: Carlos Miller