Wednesday, 30 November 2016


I wrote Orlando Bosch's obituary for the Independent five years ago, and I thought it might be worth posting it here to widen the perspective of reflection on the death of Castro, and American attitudes toward terrorism. The death toll from Operation Condor alone is instructive. You can look at my original posting here at IT which I wrote when I linked to the Indy piece: it includes the Dealey Plaza photo. I've posted my original copy here; it was edited slightly in the Indy, and I've added a couple of notes.


It is said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter. If so, Orlando Bosch, who has died aged 84, was all things to all men. A dedicated anti-Castro Cuban, Bosch was implicated in dozens of terrorist acts, including the 1976 bombing of Cubana Air flight 455, which killed 73 people, and the assassination in Washington, DC the same year of the Chilean exile Orlando Letelier. Hailed as a hero by America's Cuban exile community, Bosch was a prime example of the double-standards of the Bush administration's so-called 'Global War on Terror' and the long-standing policy of the US toward Cuba, especially considering the electoral importance of Florida's Cuban vote. Despite his terrorist record, Bosch was personally championed by Jeb Bush, and released from US custody by his father, President George HW Bush.

Orlando Bosch Avila was born 18 August 1926, five days after Fidel Castro, in Poterillo, Cuba. His father, a former policeman, ran a restaurant; his mother was a teacher. While studying medicine at the University of Havana he became friends with Castro, a law student; both were in the student government. He completed his medical internship in Toledo, Ohio and his residency in Memphis before returning to Cuba, where he was the first doctor to provide the new polio vaccine. At the same time he began organising underground support for Castro's campaign against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, for which he was forced to flee to Miami with his wife Myriam and their children. He returned after Batista fell, but quickly became disenchanted with his old friend, and after launching a failed counter-revolution, returned to Miami in 1960.

He became general coordinator of the Insurectional Movement of Revolutionary Recovery (MIRR), and joined Operation 40, a CIA-backed effort to arrange Castro's assassination, whose membership included future Watergate burglars E.Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, and a former Cuban intelligence officer named Luis Posada Carilles. Meanwhile, he lost his medical job for using the hospital to store explosives, and was arrested numerous times for violating the Neutrality Act, once for towing a home-made torpedo through Miami's streets. According to a later Justice Department report, between 1961 and 1968 Bosch was involved in some 30 terrorist operations, often organised with Posada, most notoriously the phosphorus bombing of Cuban sugar factories.

Some researchers claim to have spotted Bosch in Dealey Plaza, sitting next to the 'umbrella man' in the aftermath of John Kennedy's assassination; the photographs are more convincing than the so-called 'tramp' photos which purported to include Hunt or Sturgis, but still the figure looks more like an older Bosch than how he might have appeared in 1963. In 1985, when Hunt lost a libel suit against a magazine which claimed he was in Dallas on 22 November 1963. Marita Lorenz, once Castro's mistress and later Sturgis' girlfriend, testified under oath linking Bosch to, among others, Sturgis, Jack Ruby, and Lee Harvey Oswald. Later witnesses placing Bosch in Dealey Plaza are generally considered less reliable, and investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations 'failed to support that claim'.

In 1968, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for firing a bazooka at a Havana-bound Polish freighter docked in Miami. While he was in prison his wife divorced him. Released in 1974, he immediately broke parole and travelled around Latin America, often overstaying his welcome by being caught in terrorist activity. He was arrested in Venezuela for planning to bomb the Cuban embassy; the US declined extradition, and thanks to the intervention of President Carlos Andres Perez he was released quickly. He moved to Chile, where he met his second wife, Adrian, and in the next two years, according to the US government, attempted postal bombings of Cuban embassies in four countries. After another arrest, in Costa Rica, Bosch went to the Dominican Republic, where the CIA, now headed by George HW Bush, attempted to unify and control the various Cuban exile groups by forming the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organisations (CORU).

The scale of Bosch's operations increased, including the failed assassination of the Cuban ambassador to Argentina and the bombing of the Mexican Embassy in Guatemala City. In September 1976, Bosch and Posada met with Michael Townley, a CIA agent assigned to DINA, the Chilean secret police, and the architect of Operation Condor, which killed or 'disappeared' at least 60,000 people around Latin America, to plan Letelier's killing.

Flight 455 was brought down the following month, while en route from Barbados to Jamaica; Cuba's entire national fencing team was killed. Barbadian police arrested two Venezuelans, who confessed and named Bosch and Posada as the men who gave them their instructions. When Venezuelan authorities arrested them, Posada was still carrying a map of Letelier's route to work. The two were acquitted of planning the bombing by a military court in 1980, but eventually civilian authorities struck down the verdict and ordered a new trial. But by then, coincidentally, key evidence had gone missing in police custody, and the confession of the two bombers was ruled inadmissible because it was in English. While in prison Bosch allegedly told the journalist Alicia Herrerra, 'we planted the bombs—so what?' With judges wary of Bosch's connections with President Lopez, the Venezuelan bombers were sentenced to 20 years each, but Bosch and Posada were finally acquitted in 1987, by which time Posada had already bribed his jailers and escaped. Since then, freedom of information requests have revealed documents noting both foreknowledge of the attack by the CIA and confirmation by an FBI informant that Bosch received a phone call from the bombers saying 'a bus with 73 dogs went off a cliff and all got killed'.

US ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich arranged for Bosch to return to Miami, where he was greeted as a hero by the Cuban community, but almost immediately arrested for absconding while on parole. He served three months in prison, and the US Justice Department called for him to be deported; Associate US Attorney General Joe Whitely said Bosch was 'resolute and unswerving in his advocacy of terrorist violence.' The only country willing to accept Bosch was Cuba, where he would have been tried again as a terrorist, but by then Jeb Bush, at the time head of the Dade County Republican Party and with close financial ties to the exile community, took the forefront of a campaign to have Bosch allowed to remain in the USA. In 1990 Jeb's father, by now president, overturned Bosch's deportation order by presidential fiat, in effect pardoning him. As part of the deal, Bosch promised to renounce the use of violence. In a later interview, he called his promise 'a farce', saying 'they purchased the chain but they don't have the monkey'.

While in prison Bosch had taken up painting, and his work commanded high prices in Miami's Little Havana. He set up 'Mortar for Masons' to fund resistance to Castro, and acknowledged the money raised was not for 'flowers or hot meat pies'. When he was linked to a 1997 series of bombings in Cuban hotels, which killed an Italian tourist, he denied it with a wink, saying 'we have nothing to do with these attacks. Besides, if we did, we'd still be denying it, since that's illegal in this country.' Earlier this month, Posada received a hero's welcome in Miami, after being acquitted by a Texas jury of lying on his immigration forms, but by then Bosch was already ill. Bosch died 27 April in Miami and is survived by his second wife, and six children, five from his first marriage. In Miami, there were public demonstrations of mourning the man who said, 'you have to fight violence with violence. At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people.'

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