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Prominent Cuban exile Orlando Bosch dies at 84

Prominent Cuban exile Orlando Bosch, who was acquitted in the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976, has died in Miami. He was 84.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prominent Cuban exile 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 after a lengthy hospital stay in suburban Miami. She said the exile opponent of 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 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 the flight from Venezuela to Cuba.

Venezuelan authorities had arrested Bosch and held him for 11 years. 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 responsible for 50 bombings in Miami, New York and Latin America. While Posada was awaiting a retrial after an acquittal by a military court, he escaped from a Venezuela prison. Posada was recently acquitted on charges of lying to U.S. immigration authorities about his past.

'Loving man'
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 spent much of his life fighting for the liberation of communist Cuba.

"He was very loving and very giving," Karen Bosch, his daughter said, her voice wavering.

"He was never a violent man," she added later. "On the contrary, a loving man. 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.

Others cast Bosch in a different light than his supporters.

"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, which has declassified CIA and FBI intelligence documents about the bombing.

'Freedom fighter'
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.

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.

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 told The AP that there were always people, out of hatred for the Castro regime, who applauded Bosch's action, adding: "... but the things he did were unconscionable."