Longform

Breach of Faith

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He pauses, grimaces, then adds, "Every time I tell somebody this, there's a voice in the back of my head saying, 'You're paranoid.'"

Then Franco, too, became unreachable.
"You ask me were they just two flakes walking in off the street?" wonders Robert Hewitt, an attorney involved in the case. "Were they intimidated? Why would they go to the trouble to say they were going to do something and then disappear? It's a mystery. They should send Columbo in. Those were two of the most amazing things I ever saw."

In July 1993 Losana Pelaez turned up on the CBS news show Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, on a hidden video that showed him at his office in Little Havana, reading chest X-rays upside-down and prescribing bee products for what he diagnosed as tuberculosis. (The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has no record of either a medical license for Losana Pelaez or of any complaints lodged against him.) Now he's back on the radio, this time on WVCG-AM (1080). Of his abortive bid to purchase Radio Fe, he explains, "It wasn't a business. My accountants and lawyers advised me not to buy." What of the frozen Swiss bank accounts, the threats and vandalism? He shakes his head and purses his lips. "That's all I have to say. Accept what I tell you."

The Milians never were able to track down Patricia Franco. The four local phone numbers she gave them are now either disconnected or answered by parties who have no knowledge of her whatsoever.

"I like to do everything in radio: to be an announcer, to write, everything."

Even when he was a medical student at the University of Havana, Emilio Milian wanted to own a radio station. After three years working nights at a station, he made radio his day job, leaving school to work full-time in his hometown of Sagua la Grande. In 1958 he married Emma Maria Mirtha Cotarelo; the next year, shortly after Fidel Castro came to power, Emilio III was born, followed in 1960 by Albert and in 1965 by Mirtha. By the time Mirtha came along, the Milians had secured visas to Mexico. For four months Milian wrote for the Mexico City daily El Excelsior, and then he brought his family to Miami, where other relatives had settled.

Milian's credentials got him a job as a part-time sports announcer at WMIE-AM, which two years later was sold and renamed WQBA. "Emilio was an announcer at that time," remembers then-general manager Herb Levin, who is now an independent consultant. "I saw in him a person of great integrity and wonderful on-air talent. He worked himself up from just staff announcer to news director." In the succeeding years, with Milian overseeing news and programming, WQBA became one of the top Spanish stations in the nation.

"Emilio was one of the first of the Latin broadcasters who came here with credentials out of Cuba who was a radio journalist," says Sidney Levin (no relation to Herb). Levin would go on to serve as the Florida Secretary of Commerce and as a Dade County commissioner; back then he managed the English-language station WKAT-AM. "We were involved at one time in the creation of what has become the South Florida Radio Broadcasters Association," he remembers. "We worked on a few community activities through the association. I liked him. We built a very nice relationship. And then there was that terrible event."

Just before sundown on April 30, 1976, Milian started his company-supplied Chevy station wagon in the WQBA parking lot, detonating eight pounds of high explosives that had been wired to the car's battery. The blast cost him both legs below the knee (he now wears prostheses), blew a hole in his abdomen, and propelled pieces of metal into his head and body. It was a time of frequent terrorist attacks by radical anti-Castro groups; five exile leaders were slain in bomb attacks between 1974 and 1976. Milian, who had continually castigated terrorists on the air, had been warned by FBI agents that he was a target. Callers made on-air death threats, and armed guards were stationed at WQBA's entrances.

To people like Sidney Levin who spoke only English and had felt a safe distance from the previous bombings, this bombing was incomprehensible. "I never thought about [Milian's] politics. Then suddenly there was an ugly side to all this," Levin recalls. "Somebody told me he was saying things on the radio that somebody didn't want to hear. I mean, wow. Several of us went to Washington, we met with Carter's attorney general. We asked them to look into this. Truthfully, we felt this affected the First Amendment rights of everyone of the press."

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow