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U.S. Labels Bosch a Terrorist : Plan to Deport Castro Foe Angers Cubans in Miami

June 29, 1989|BARRY BEARAK | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Will there be no refuge here for the old Cuban terrorist--his gray hair rumpled across a weary face, his 62-year-old body fighting its own battles with angina and ulcers and a bad prostate?

What he wants now, Dr. Orlando Bosch says, is to remain with his wife and six children in Miami and continue la lucha-- the struggle against Fidel Castro--this time in a legal and certainly more peaceful way.

But last Friday the U.S. Justice Department ruled that Bosch, imprisoned here and in Venezuela for 16 of the past 21 years, should be denied political asylum and deported, exiled from the capital of el exilio itself.

Since he fled to America in 1960, he has been "resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence . . . " said Joe D. Whitley, acting associate attorney general. "We must look at terrorism as a universal evil, even if it is directed toward those with whom we have no political sympathy."

In the Miami area, where about 577,000 people are of Cuban birth or descent, the decision has been met with surprise and, in some quarters, outrage. It is as if a Don Quixote was being plucked from their midst--one of the great icons in the courageous, if so far futile, effort to tilt the windmill Castro.

"This man symbolizes our resistance, the ideal that each of us must fight to free Cuba with whatever means are available," said prominent Miami attorney Rafael Penalver. "Castro wants Bosch dead at any price, and now the United States seems to be offering him up."

With that harrowing prospect in mind, local Republican leaders--stuck with a back yard mess of the Bush Administration's making--have pledged to send a delegation to see the President. And to remind him: Wealthy Cubans have always been an easy tap for his campaigns.

Hundreds of protesters have marched downtown. Bosch's diabetic son, Willie, 32, has gone on a hunger strike--and was rushed to a hospital Tuesday morning just after he met with Jeb Bush, the President's son. A nationwide three-hour shutdown of Cuban businesses has been called for this afternoon.

"Dr. Bosch is not a threat to the U.S.; all that he has done, he has done to defend democracy!" insisted taxi driver Blanco Avelino, in a comment typical among Cubans here, especially the older ones.

To understand the importance of Bosch in Miami is to recall 30 regretful years of anti-Castroism--and to examine the great unhealed wound of exile.

Former CIA Support

In the beginning, many Cuban refugees--whether doctor, salesman or busboy--saw themselves as part-time commandos. With CIA support, they carried out hit-and-run attacks against the island, tossing grenades and smuggling guns.

But there were embarrassing failures, and the White House lost interest in its Cuban militia, stopped paying the bills and confiscated the boats.

Freedom-loving commandos suddenly became law-breaking terrorists--and most of them resignedly gave up their second identities as saboteurs to root their lives in America. Most of them--but not all.

Among the staunch holdouts was Bosch, an unlikely looking warrior, a baby doctor with thick glasses and a bad stomach. He was all at once heroic and hapless, the macho schemer and the bungling fool.

The one and only Bosch: fired from a hospital for storing explosives on the premises, stopped by police as he drove around with a trunk full of dynamite, arrested for towing a homemade torpedo through downtown at rush hour.

Fired Bazooka at Freighter

In 1968, he shot off a jerry-built bazooka from an expressway median strip, aiming at a Polish freighter in the Miami harbor. The shell harmlessly nicked the ship's thick metal hull, but the deed was enough to get Bosch a 10-year term in federal prison.

After four years, he was paroled. He might then have returned to home and career, becoming, like so many others here, an elder statesman of the commando days. Venerated. Looked out for. A welcome guest on Cuban talk radio.

But that was not for Bosch. In 1974, he fled America rather than face a subpoena in a murder case. He wandered in Latin America, a conspirator in who knows what, his handiwork showing up in half a dozen countries.

In 1976, he was arrested in Venezuela and charged with masterminding the bombing of a Cuban jetliner, in which 73 people died. He was acquitted of the crime three times, but never released.

In Miami, the jailed Bosch was a popular cause. City commissioners read his revered name into the minutes. Mass was said in his honor. When he went on a hunger strike, 20 here joined him.

When will Bosch be freed, people demanded to know. Then, finally, in late 1987, the prison doors opened. And a few months later, the old doctor arrived at Miami International Airport, a long-gone parole violator with no visa.

Since then, he has been held in a prison near Miami while U.S. immigration and Justice Department officials shooed his case from desk to desk.

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