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LATIN AMERICA: The Exile Bombers

4 minute read

A few minutes after taking off from Barbados airport on Oct. 6, the pilot of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 radioed that there had been an explosion on his plane and that he was heading back. He never made it. Carrying 73 passengers and crew, including Cuba’s crack Olympic fencing team, the flaming DC-8 nosedived into the Caribbean. There were no survivors.

The sabotage of the Cuban jet produced some intriguing international ripples. In Havana, an angry Fidel Castro blamed the bombing on the CIA and announced that he was suspending the 1973 antihijacking accord with the U.S. Regarded as a promising diplomatic icebreaker when it was signed, the treaty was the only official agreement ever reached between the U.S. and Cuba’s “maximum leader.”

Castro was apparently wrong about direct CIA involvement, which was forcefully denied by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Subsequent investigation has shown that the sabotage was carried out by a fanatic underground network of Cuban exiles known as CORU (Coordinación de Organizaciones Revolucionarias Unidas), which was organized early this year as an umbrella for diehard anti-Castro activists. Among its founders was a shadowy pediatrician turned terrorist, Dr. Orlando Bosch.

Since its inception, CORU has tried to sever Castro’s growing ties with other Caribbean nations and freeze U.S.Cuban relations in a state of permanent hostility. In pursuit of that goal, the clandestine terrorists have bombed and shot up Cuban offices in Jamaica, Barbados, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Mexico; in an abortive attempt in July to snatch a Cuban consul in Yucatán, the terrorists instead killed a visiting Cuban fisheries expert. More shockingly, CORU apparently arranged the bombing-murder in Washington last month of former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier (TIME, Oct. 4).

The first clue to the identity of the airline bombers came from a taxi driver in Trinidad who overheard two Spanish-speaking passengers discussing the Cubana “accident” shortly after the crash. Port of Spain police found that the pair had checked in—without luggage—at the downtown Holiday Inn. The two men, Freddie Lugo and Hernán Ricardo Losano, were traveling on Venezuelan passports; they had been on the arriving-passenger list of the ill-fated airliner in Barbados earlier in the day, but then flew back to Trinidad. After deplaning, investigators found, the pair placed a call to Orlando Bosch in Caracas. On their arrest, the two claimed to be employees of a Caracas detective agency headed by Luis Posada Carriles, former head of the operations arm of the Venezuelan secret police. Known as “Inspector Vasilio,” Posada had been trained by the CIA in antiguerrilla warfare and demolitions.

Tipped off by Trinidadian officials who had interrogated Lugo and Losano, Venezuelan police pounced on Posada’s offices and raided his fortress-like home in the suburbs. The police claim to have found “documents and material” linking Posada to Lugo and Losano and other CORU operations.

Fanatical Activist. The Venezuelans also corralled 14 leading anti-Castro activists, including CORU Ringleader Bosch. A militant antiCommunist, Bosch, who has given up his medical career, brags of leading 1,000 anti-Castro guerrillas in Cuba’s Las Villas province. After fleeing to Miami in 1960, he earned a reputation as a fanatical exile activist. He was jailed in Miami in 1968 for a bazooka attack on a Polish ship that traded with Cuba, then paroled from a ten-year sentence in 1972. Bosch jumped parole two years later to wander through Latin America, organizing anti-Castro actions and dodging arrest. Earlier this year, Bosch played a central role in evolving CORU’s terrorist strategy. “People compulsorily cut off from freedom,” Bosch says, “have a right to use any means to regain their liberty.”

To force Bombardiers Lugo and Losano and Organizers Posada and Bosch to talk, Trinidadian and Venezuelan authorities simply threatened to deport them to Cuba, which would mean certain execution. Losano cracked first, confessing that he had left an explosive-laden camera case aboard the Cuban airliner before disembarking in Barbados. Confronted with street maps of the area in Washington where Letelier was killed and with other evidence found in Posada’s home and office, Bosch told police that CORU had ordered two of its U.S.-based agents to carry out the Letelier “hit.” The Venezuelans also found that Bosch and other CORU agents were behind many, if not most, of this year’s hitherto mysterious anti-Castro bombings around the Caribbean.

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