Longform

Let Terrorist Eduardo Arocena Go

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Wack tracked Arocena for two years between New Jersey and Florida, gathering evidence to link his activities to Omega 7 bombings. In September 1982, the G-man met his quarry face-to-face outside a New York grand jury room, where several Omega 7 members had been called to testify. All pleaded the Fifth, while Arocena flat-out denied any connection to terrorist activities.

The agent took the then-39-year-old bomber aside in the marble hallway. "We've been working on this case a long time," he said. "You should start thinking about cooperating with us."

Arocena didn't respond. But two weeks later, he left Wack a message at his office: He wanted to talk. Less than a week after that, they met at the Jetport Inn near Newark Airport. "I'm here representing Omar and Omega 7," Arocena told Wack. "We want to build a bridge with the government."

The agent warned him it wouldn't be easy. "You can't just forget about eight years of ... bombings and murders and innocent people being injured," he said. Wack laid out his case: Phone records linked him to Remón, Sánchez, and every other known member of Omega 7. A car rented by Arocena got a parking ticket across from the Cuban mission hours before Félix García was gunned down. And he had been seen returning the rental car after the bombings at the Mexican consulate.

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.

"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.

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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