Orlando Bosch: CIA-backed Cuban exile implicated in numerous anti-Castro terrorist operations

It is said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter. If so, Orlando Bosch might be all things to all men. A dedicated anti-Castro Cuban, Bosch was implicated in dozens of terrorist acts, including the 1976 bombing of Cubana 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 – especially considering the electoral importance of Florida's Cuban vote – having been personally championed by Jeb Bush and released from US custody by Jeb's father George HW.

Orlando Bosch Avila was born in 1926, five days after Fidel Castro, in Potrerillo, Cuba. While studying medicine at the University of Havanahe became friends with Castro, a law student. He completed his 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 dictatorshipof Fulgencio Batista, but was forcedto flee to Miami with his wife, Myriam, and their children. He returnedafter Batista fell, but quickly became disenchanted, and after launching a failed counter-revolution, returned to Miami in 1960.

He became general coordinator of the Insurrectional Movement ofRevolutionary Recovery (MIRR), and joined Operation 40, a CIA-backedeffort to arrange Castro's assassination, whose membership included the future Watergate burglars E Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, and a former Cuban intelligence officer named Luis Posada Carriles. Meanwhile, he lost his medical job for using the hospital to store explosives, and was arrestednumerous 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.

Some researchers claim to have spotted Bosch in Dealey Plaza, sitting next to the "umbrella man" in the aftermath of John F Kennedy's assassination; the photographs are more convincing than the so-called "tramp" photos which purported to include Hunt or Sturgis. In 1985, when Hunt sued, and 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's girlfriend, linked Bosch under oath to, among others, Sturgis, Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald. Later witnesses placing Bosch in Dealey Plaza are generally considered less reliable.

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 moved around Latin America; 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. He and Posada met 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, which was carried out in September 1976.

Flight 455 was brought down the following month, while en route from Barbados to Jamaica; the entire Cuban national fencing team was killed. Barbadian police arrested two Venezuelans, who confessed and named Bosch and Posada as their bosses. When Venezuelan authorities arrested them, Posada was still carrying a map of Letelier's route to work. The two were acquitted in 1980 by a military court, but they remained in prison while civilian authorities tired to mount a new trial. Meanwhile, key evidence went missing in police custody, and the confession of the two bombers was ruled inadmissible because it was in English.

Bosch and Posada were finally acquitted in 1987, though the Venezuelan bombers were sentenced to 20 years each. Since then, American documents have emerged showing 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".

The US ambassador Otto Reich arranged Bosch's triumphal return to Miami, but he was arrested for his parole violation and served three months in prison. The US Justice Department recommended deportation, but Jeb Bush, head of the Dade County Republican Party, and a man with close financial ties to the exile community, led a campaign to have Bosch allowed to remain in the US. In 1990 Jeb's father, by now President, overturned Bosch's deportation order by presidential fiat. As part of the deal, Bosch promised to renounce the use of violence. He later called his promise "a farce", saying that "they purchased the chain but they don't have the monkey."

Bosch began painting in prison, 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."

Bosch died in Miami: there werepublic demonstrations of mourningin the city for the man who said, "You have to fight violence with violence. At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people."

Michael Carlson

Orlando Bosch, militant Cuban exile: born Potrerillo, Cuba 18 August 1926; married twice (six children); died Miami, Florida 27 April 2011.

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