Orlando Bosch, a prominent Cuban militant who was acquitted in Venezuela of the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner, died Wednesday at a suburban Miami hospital. He was 84.
Bosch's wife, Adriana, said the exiled opponent of communist Cuba's Fidel Castro had suffered complications from various illnesses and had been hospitalized since December.
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 about 50 bombings in Miami, New York and Latin America.
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.
Bosch was released in 1990, thanks in part to a public campaign on his behalf by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
"He was a freedom fighter for Cuba and passed away without seeing his beloved homeland free of the Castro dictatorship," Ros-Lehtinen said Wednesday.
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. "How can you understand someone trying to get freedom for his country by blowing up a plane with innocent people on board?" Diaz, who came to the United States in 1981, said in the Herald interview.
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."
Born Aug. 18, 1926, in the village of Portrerillo, about 150 miles east of Havana, Bosch earned a medical degree at the University of Havana. He gave up his practice as a pediatrician to pursue the armed struggle against Castro.
In addition to his second wife, Adriana, he is survived by six children and five grandchildren.