Longform

Let Terrorist Eduardo Arocena Go

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Inside one of the nicer buildings they visited, a young man was leaning against a wall near the entrance. His serious, stoic eyes locked with Miriam's.

"Mother," the young woman said, grabbing Mercedes's arm after they were inside the apartment. "Mother, did you see that boy? He will be my husband."

In the hallway, the 25-year-old man grabbed his friend by the shoulders and said, "I will marry that girl."

The meeting, perhaps, highlighted the two linchpins of Arocena's personality: his impulsiveness and his burning passion. It also hinted at events to come. He had just received word in the mail a few weeks earlier — soon after arriving in New Jersey — that his first wife in Cuba had ended the marriage. Though he still had four young children in Caibarién, he leapt into a new life in New Jersey with his new passion, Miriam.

Arocena worked first at a stereo equipment company and then as a dockworker, while Miriam raised a quickly growing family that soon included two children, Frank and Lorna. At home he watched baseball and taught Frank karate, which he'd taken up after his wrestling career ended.

"My life in New Jersey was one of peace," Miriam says. "I think it was beautiful."

Though Arocena had left Cuba, he hadn't forgotten his politics or his passionate hatred of Castro. In 1967, he moved to Miami, where for two months he trained in the Everglades with 2,000 other Cubans at secret military camps for an invasion of his homeland. He added automatic weapons and surveillance techniques to the bomb-making skills he had gained on the island.

The invasion never happened, but the training would be useful to Arocena. On September 11, 1974, "Omar" was born.


In March 1980, inside a small room above the Fruit Meat King Supermarket in Newark's Cuban enclave, Eduardo Arocena practiced his deadly and precise secret talent.

His worn, calloused hands carefully molded C-4 explosive like Play-Doh around detonating cords and two electrical blasting caps. He wired the caps to a receiver cannibalized from a remote-control airplane kit and set the frequency to 72.24 megahertz.

With string and black electrical tape, he gingerly secured the bomb inside a box and mounted it onto a pressboard panel with two large, disc-shaped magnets glued to the bottom.

Arocena had spent years honing his bomb-making skills the same way he'd perfected wrestling moves as a boy. He had assembled dozens of these bombs, beginning soon after that September in 1974 when he became fed up with his compadres' blather about overthrowing Castro. Arocena recruited from New Jersey-based Cuban nationalist groups such as Movimiento Insurreccional Martiano and the Cuban Nationalist Movement. He called his new group "Omega 7" — Omega for "the end" in the Greek alphabet, and 7 for the original number of members.

Arocena's bombs would be their main weapon; Americans or foreigners in the United States who maintained relations with Castro's Cuba would be their targets.

One of the first explosions, on February 1, 1975, blew a hole in the Venezuelan consulate in New York City. The next September, Arocena and his followers attacked a Soviet freighter in Port Elizabeth, where Arocena worked.

A litany of targets with varying connections to Cuba followed over the next four years. In early October 1978, Omega 7 blew up a sporting goods store near Madison Square Garden.

On December 29 that same year, just after midnight, Arocena's group planted a bomb in the doorway of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. It was just hours after the first New York performance of acclaimed Cuban ensemble Orquesta Aragón. The bomb blew out glass three stories up in the famous theater and caused the orchestra to cancel its remaining Manhattan shows. That same night, they detonated another bomb at the Cuban mission to the United Nations.

After each of the attacks, Arocena's right-hand man, Pedro Remón, or another associate would call television and radio stations to claim responsibility for the attacks in the name of Omega 7 and "Omar."

Arocena would later say the bombings were meant to scare, not kill, but in 1979, his henchman Remón checked a suitcase bomb onto a TWA flight from JFK to Los Angeles. They wanted the airline to cease commercial flights to Havana. Only a premature explosion in a baggage cart on the tarmac saved the passengers onboard the flight from a gruesome end. (Arocena later claimed his group had phoned in a warning.)

In November, Arocena planned the assassination of Eulalio José Negrín — and Remón pulled the trigger. The reason: Negrín belonged to a Cuban-American group that had negotiated with Castro to free 3,000 political prisoners.

A month later, Arocena and Remón were nearly caught while bombing the Soviet mission to the United Nations on East 38th Street in Manhattan. Arocena had built the explosive inside a suitcase. Dressed in raincoats, top hats, and fake mustaches, the pair approached the mission's driveway, lit a fuse, and slid the suitcase down the pavement toward the building. As they calmly walked away, they heard a voice call out, "Hey you!"

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink