Yesterday, 84-year-old Orlando Bosch breathed his last. This Cuban exile, extremist, letter-bomber, accomplice to murder, and disrespecter of human life was felled by "a long and painful illness." But Orlando Bosch was sick long before his body failed him.
When future generations review our moment in American history, the footnote that will be Orlando Bosch will perhaps seem emblematic of the contradictions that defined and confused us. To contemporary ears, no English word is quite so dirty as terrorist; the designation suggests moral blastedness and perversion beyond redemption. But there was Bosch, walking free and easy all these years down the streets of Miami, smiling or scowling at the neighborhood characters with his queer, O-shaped mouth -- an admitted "unrepentant terrorist" who would tell anyone of his crimes if they asked nicely.
He walked free because he was Cuban; because his acts of terrorism were committed against innocents in league with, or who seemed to be in league with, a Communist regime -- or who merely had the bad luck to be born under one. He seems to have boasted of his involvement in the assassination of Chilean intellectual and diplomat Orlando Letelier on American soil in 1976 -- a double murder, as it turned out, because poor Ronni Moffitt was in the car with Letelier when it happened. Bosch mailed bombs to Cuban embassies in four countries. He got off on a technicality for blasting Cubana Flight 455 out of the sky and subsequently waffled on how he might or mightn't have been involved with that atrocity. But he was resolute in his approval of the bombing, which claimed 73 lives, including the adolescent members of the Cuban fencing team. "You have to fight violence with violence," he said. "At times, you cannot avoid hurting innocent people."
In 1989, Joe D. Whitley, acting associate attorney general of the United States, denied Orlando Bosch asylum in our country. Though this denial was subsequently overturned by George H.W. Bush, Whitley's assessment is worth revisiting:
[Orlando Bosch] has repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death. His actions have been those of a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency, threatening and inficting injury without regard to the identity of his victims...
The United States cannot grant shelter to someone who will, from that shelter, advocate the visitation of injury and death upon the property or person of innocent civilians. The security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credible other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists, whose target we too often become. We could not shelter Dr. Bosch and maintain our credibility in this respect.
Consider the implications of that last line. What it suggests is that at any moment during Bosch's latter two decades in Miami, any street he walked was as valid a target of Cuban or Chilean (or, for that matter, American) military aggression as any of our drones' targets in Pakistan. Our anti-Communist leaders' sympathy for Bosch ceded valuable real estate on the moral high ground to Castro sympathizers and anti-USA types, none of whom deserved it.
We quietly regained some of that ground yesterday. If so, perhaps now is the time to share in George H.W. Bush's fellow-feeling for Orlando Bosch and to recall that creatures such as he are not created in the womb but deformed by circumstance. Bosch would have been happier if he'd never been a warrior -- if his life had progressed unmolested by politics and he had become a doctor as he originally wished, perhaps with a practice not far from his father's old restaurant in the village of Potrerillo, amid the sugar fields of Cienfuegos. But history wouldn't allow it. Bosch's moral compass, like his youthful dream of saving lives with medicine, was one of the billion casualties of the 20th Century's grinding inhumanity. With Bosch's passing, that century recedes further from view. May there never be another like it.
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