MIAMI – Prominent Cuban exile militant Orlando Bosch, who was acquitted in Venezuela in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner, has died in Miami. He was 84.
Bosch's wife, Adriana, said he died at midday Wednesday at a suburban Miami hospital. She said the exile opponent of communist Cuba's Fidel Castro had suffered complications from various illnesses and had been hospitalized since December.
"Knowing him, it doesn't surprise me that he waited to pass away until after Fidel Castro formally retired from power. He died in the satisfaction of knowing that the struggle, even though by other means, is kept up by those of us yet to go," said Pepe Hernandez, head of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami.
Bosch and fellow militant Luis Posada Carriles were both accused in connection with the 1976 bombing that killed all 73 people aboard a flight that had hopscotched the Caribbean, bound for Cuba.
Venezuelan authorities had arrested Bosch and held him for 11 years, alleging he was behind the attack plotted there. They failed twice to convict him and finally freed him to return to the United States. The federal government then held Bosch for three years in a Miami jail as an "undesirable alien" and released a report linking him to right-wing terrorist groups suspected in some 50 bombings in Miami, New York and Latin America. Posada escaped from a Venezuela prison after his acquittal by a military court, while awaiting retrial.
Adriana Bosch said she wanted her husband to be remembered not by the accusations he had faced, but as a great father, husband and medical doctor by training who had spent much of his life fighting for the liberation of Cuba from communism.
"He was very loving and very giving," added Karen Bosch, his daughter, her voice wavering. She added, "I never considered him a violent man, growing up with him, and I don't relate him to any violence."
Federal attorneys told a judge in 1990 that they had tried to deport Bosch to 31 countries but all refused. Cuba wanted him returned there to stand trial, but the U.S. government refused that request.
Eventually in 1990, Bosch was released, thanks in part to a very public campaign on his behalf by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.
"He was a freedom fighter for Cuba and passed away without seeing his beloved homeland free of the Castro dictatorship," Ros-Lehtinen said Wednesday in a statement to The Associated Press.
Others cast Bosch in a different light.
"Orlando Bosch lived a life of unrepentant terrorist violence. The verdict of history, rendered by formerly secret CIA and FBI intelligence reports, and court records, is that he was a mass murderer masquerading as a freedom fighter," said Peter Kornbluh, head of the independent National Security Archives' Cuba project. Kornbluh noted that his organization declassified CIA and FBI intelligence documents that link Bosch to the 1976 bombing.
Bosch also had detractors in the Cuban-American exile community.
Nelson Diaz, who worked as a taxi driver in Cuba when the jetliner crashed, told The Miami Herald in 1989 that he had a friend whose daughter worked as a flight attendant and perished in the bombing. Diaz, who came to the United States in 1981, was quoted as telling the newspaper: "How can you understand someone trying to get freedom for his country by blowing up a plane with innocent people on board?"
In Miami, Bosch once told a judge that the U.S. had built up a voluminous file against him titled "terrorist."
"Nonetheless, the government of the United States has never wanted to go into the depths of that file to understand that my persistence, my insistence and even my intransigence, are the product of a past, a sinful past, wherein the sovereignty and the freedom of my country were put in the balance and the right to belligerence was sacrificed in order to liberate Cuba from its tyrannous oppressors," he had said.
A Cuban state-run website, Cubadebate, noted the death of Bosch in a story Wednesday that called him a terrorist. It was illustrated with an unflattering photo.
Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. Interest Section in Cuba and a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for International Policy, said of Bosch: "He was someone who did a disservice to the cause of democracy and freedom."
Smith added that there were always those, out of hatred for the Castro regime, who applauded Bosch, "but the things he did were unconscionable."
(This version CORRECTS in 4th paragarph that bombed flight had hopscotched across Caribbean region bound for Cuba but didn't originate in Venezuela.)
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