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A Tale of Two Terrorists

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The recent deaths of two terrorists – one famous, one not so much – provides an illuminating examination of how America continues to conduct its controversial war on terror. Making headlines across the United States and called a defining moment in Barack Obama’s presidency, the dramatic raid into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden is one side of the equation. The quiet passing of Orlando Bosch in Miami that elicited scant attention outside the confines of the South Florida community, is the other.

While it would be hard to find an American who hasn’t heard of Bin Laden, the converse is true of Bosch, unless you happen to live in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. This despite Bosch’s much more protracted career of violence, stretching back to the early 1960s. His terrorism, however, was directed at the Cuban people who have, for the most part, supported the regime that came to power following the Revolution in 1959 and that has been designated an official enemy of the United States. Bosch’s actions were rarely, if ever, recognized as terrorism in the mainstream media, which generally kept silent when it came to describing the consequences of his use of violent methods to oppose the Castro regime.

Born in 1926 in a small town East of Havana, Bosch is most infamously linked as one of the masterminds of the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 on October 6, 1976, killing all 73 on board. It remains the second worst act of air terrorism in the Americas. The first is Bin Laden’s orchestrated destruction on September 11.

A pediatrician by profession, Bosch initially supported the Revolution but quickly turned violently against it. Implicated in a series of bombings, including a number against Cuban-Americans expressing sympathy with the Castro regime, Bosch was arrested in 1968 for firing a bazooka in the Miami harbor at a Polish vessel that was heading for Havana. Given a 10 year sentence for that act, he fled the United States while still on parole.

In his 2010 autobiography, Los Años que he Vivido (The Years I have Lived), Bosch acknowledged his violent past came from a conviction to oust the Castro regime. “The most crucial phase of my life came when I realized that violence was the only method of struggle available to us, the Cubans.’’ In the book he denied responsibility for the Cubana Airlines explosion. The book also failed to mention any of the victims of the incident, like Jorge De La Nuez Jr., who lost his father when he was five years old, or Haymel Espinosa, daughter of co-pilot Miguel.

The Cubana bombing resulted in Bosch’s incarceration in Venezuela for 11 years, until he was released on a technicality. Upon his illegal return to the United States in 1988, he was immediately detained and declared by the FBI to be the Western Hemisphere’s “most dangerous terrorist.” While plans were being made for a deportation order to be written, Bosch instead received a pardon from President George Bush Senior. The pardon was arranged through the insistence of son and future Florida governor Jeb Bush, who at the time was the campaign manager for Miami Congressman (R) Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Florida politician has been well known for her viral hatred of Fidel Castro and once publicly called for his assassination. She is now Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

When Bosch died after a long and painful illness, Ros-Lehtinen told the Associated Press that Bosch “Was a freedom fighter for Cuba and passed away without seeing his beloved homeland free of the Castro dictatorship.” Years before she had called him a hero and a patriot.

The death of these two terrorists less than a week apart did elicit something in common — anger. America’s incursion into the sovereign country of Pakistan with no prior warning in the course of conducting a military raid, as well as carrying out what some have called an extra-judicial execution, created a sense of outrage among large portions in the Muslim nation. Demands for the resignation of top Pakistani government and military officials have been heard loudly in the aftermath. American justification that informing the Pakistan government would have compromised the mission is being widely rejected, along with calls for breaking off ties with Washington. Pakistan’s support for America’s war on terror is also being questioned. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani heatedly denounced the incursion as a “violation of sovereignty” and warned that Pakistan would retaliate against future unilateral strikes with “full force.”

Cuba’s response to Bosch’s death was relatively muted, with little official comment other than re-iterating opposition to American duplicity, allowing one genre of terrorists to live comfortably in their own backyard while another was killed in what has been described as a violation of international laws.

Throughout the time following the Bush administration, which allowed the conferring of legal residency status on Bosch in 1992, the Cuban government consistently took issue with how Bosch was portrayed by the hard-right exile community in Miami. Often invited to civic ceremonies, Bosch was given a day in his honor by the Miami city commission in 1982 while in Venezuelan jail. In 2002 he was photographed in the front row at a speech delivered by President George W Bush, and this past October Bosch was awarded a plaque at an event at the University of Miami to mark 50 years of armed struggle against Cuba.

The Castro regime additionally points to the stark differences in how they have tried to deal with their terrorist problem. Unlike the violence of the American option, the Cuban side has long sent agents to infiltrate anti-Revolutionary organizations in Florida suspected of conducting much of the terrorism. In the mid 1990s, after inviting and demonstrating various material pertaining to anti-Castro Cuban exile groups operating in the United States and elsewhere, the Americans thanked their Cuban hosts, then promptly went back and publicly uncovered the operation, arresting five members who are now serving long jail terms for being unregistered agents and conspiracy to commit espionage. The Cuban Five have languished in American jail for more than a dozen years, and their release remains a matter of the utmost priority for the Castro government.

It would be impossible for the Cubans to follow the American model, as one could imagine the response to a highly trained band of commandos tracking down and killing Orlando Bosch on US soil. No doubt Americans would again take to the streets, as they did following the announcement of Bin Laden’s demise, this time not out in celebration but in demand for retribution for what would most likely be perceived as an unprovoked attack. Media and politicians would be outraged at this illegal incursion into American territory, and the history of Bosch’s multiple flood of terrorist activities would assuredly be ignored or discounted.

There is one more piece to the puzzle. Yet another Cuban born anti-revolutionary is considered to be an even more dangerous terrorist than Bosch. In fact, he’s been called “the Bin Laden of the Americas” by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.  Luis Posada Carriles also lives unfettered in Miami, even though his deeds are well known to American officials, yet he receives the same level of immunity from the current Democratic administrators as Bosch enjoyed.

Posada is the other acknowledged architect of the Cubana Airlines bombing. At the time he was connected with Bosch through a group of anti-Castro organizations known as the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU). Their involvement was described in a report issued by acting Associate Attorney General Joe Whitely, who detailed, “Information reflecting that the Cuban airline bombing was a CORU operation under the direction of Bosch.” A declassified CIA document dated October 12, 1976, quotes Posada as saying at a CORU meeting a month before the bombing, “We are going to hit a Cuban airliner… Orlando has the details.”

Besides the Cubana incident, Posada has been implicated in a series of other terrorist acts. He admitted to his role in coordinating a string of bombs that went off in Havana hotels and other tourist facilities catering to European visitors during 1997, outlining in detail how the campaign took place in a set of interviews he gave to the New York Times. Italian tourist Fabio Del Celmo was killed when one of the bombs exploded in the lobby of the Hotel Copacabana. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Posada commented years later.

Posada was arrested in 2000 in Panama for planning to blow up an auditorium full of students listening to a speech by Fidel Castro. Sentenced to eight years, he was scandalously paroled after four by then Panamanian President Mireya Monosco, who soon after her term ended moved to Miami, possibly considerably enriched by the passage of time.

Five years later Posada showed up in Miami, and following a series of public appearances the US government finally responded – charging him for minor immigration fraud and perjury based on his alleged illegal entry into the United States. He was not, and never has been, indicted for terrorist activities. And even those minor charges no longer bother Posada as he was acquitted on all counts after a three-month-trial in El Paso that ended in March.

Jose Pertierra covered the trial representing the Venezuelan government that continues to ask for Posada’s extradition in connection with the Cubana airlines bombing. The verdict came as no surprise to the Washington based lawyer.

“The United States has never done anything against its own terrorists. It’s not just Orlando Bosch or Posada Carriles. There are dozens of others who have committed acts of terrorism against Cuba, but nothing will be done. The government knows where they live, they know who they are. But they will never be brought to justice. The world understands America has no credibility in its war on terror when they let these terrorists live freely and openly in Miami.”

More than 700 acts of terrorism have been claimed by the Cuban government against its citizens, resulting in the deaths of 3,500. Incidents include biological and psychological terrorism, an assault against a remote village, the murder of more than a dozen teachers during the Literacy Campaign, explosions at department stores and even attacks on theatres and day care centers. Most of these acts have originated from anti-revolutionary organizations in Florida,  the Cuba side maintains.

Commenting on the death of the two terrorists, Pertierra said, “The US knew to kill Bin Laden instead of sending him to El Paso on some minor immigration charges. There has always been a double standard when it comes to terrorists. Bosch was a bad guy, but even worse are the people who protected him.”

Posada, who had to drive back to Miami from El Paso because he’s on a no-fly list, is one of the last remaining of the exiles who have justified violence against the Cuban Revolution. With Bosch’s passing, there were a number of American officials who breathed a sigh of relief, “Knowing that all his secrets went with him. And they hope for the same thing to happen to Posada, for him to just go away. They have proven to be a problem and an embarrassment to the government,” Pertierra said.

Until that happens, the hypocrisy of American policy regarding its war on terrorism will continue to be alive, but growing older, in Miami.

Keith Bolender is the author of Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba.  (Pluto Press, 2010)