September 28, 2020
He spoke out on Miami radio. Then came the day his car was bombed as he started it
 
 
Through the 1970s and into the ‘80s, local law enforcement authorities were chasing bombers all over Miami.
 
Just as one bomb was ripping apart a Little Havana cigar shop, anoither was going off at “Fidel friendly” magazine offices. The Mexican consulate was hit, as were “Castro compliant” shipping companies.
 
During this wave of violence, Emilio Milian’s voice spoke out loudly condemning the bombers. As the news director of radio station WQBA, he regularly denounced the acts of terrorism on his popular radio show, Habla el Pueblo, The People Speak.
 
A hero to many, several others branded him a traitor. It wasn’t long before Milian was receiving regular death threats. He continued to speak his mind.
 
On April 30, 1976, Milian left the WQBA studios and got into his station wagon. When he started the engine, a bomb ripped through through the vehicle, severing his legs.
 
A rigorous investigation followed. Although three suspects emerged, no one was ever prosecuted in connection with the crime.
 
That didn’t stop Milian, however, who returned to radio in 1989. Suffering from heart disease and diabetes in his later years. Milian died on March 15, 2001.
 
Here are more details on Milian through the archives of the Miami Herald.

PAYING RESPECTS

Published, March 18, 2001
 
Hundreds of Cuban exiles gathered at a Little Havana church Saturday to pay final respects to Emilio Milian - a popular radio newscaster whose life was defined by a car bombing meant to silence him.
 
The horrific violence directed at Milian on April 30, 1976, and his courageous return to radio after both his legs were blown apart, were the prevalent themes at the morning Mass in his honor.
 
Milian died at home Thursday at age 69.
 
The attempt on Milian’s life, believed to have been prompted by his criticism of terrorist tactics used by some anti-Fidel Castro forces in the mid-1970s, will always symbolize a dark chapter in Miami exile politics.
 
With the exceptions of Miami City Commissioners Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Tomás Regalado, dignitaries were at a minimum at the Mass.
 
That would have suited Milian just fine, said Milian’s son, Alberto Milian.
 
The tearful mourners who filled the pews at St. John Bosco Catholic Church on West Flagler Street were mostly “gente del pueblo,” common folk, who up until recently listened to Milian on Spanish-language radio 670 AM - La Poderosa.
 
“My father would have liked that,” Milian’s son said. “He was one of you.”
 
Among them were faithful radio fans like Olga Rodriguez, who dabbed away tears at the service.
 
“I listened to him every day because I loved his point of view,” said Rodriguez, who never met Milian, but felt as if she knew him. “I’ll miss his voice.”
 
There were family members present - Milian’s wife, Emma Mirtha, his other son Emilio Jr. and daughter, Mirtha and his two grandchildren - and those who viewed Milian as a hero of the struggle to overthrow Castro, without violence.
 
Rafael Peñalver, a local activist and president of the San Carlos Institute in Key West, knew Milian for years and described him as a man of peace and a true patriot.
 
“Milian was totally committed to the idea of a free Cuba, but he did not think exiles should become terrorists in the process and back then he paid dearly for that opinion,” Peñalver said.
 
Commissioner Gort, who met Milian while working as a reporter for Diario Las Americas, also came to pay his respects. “I’m here today as his friend,” Gort said. “I always knew him as a man of honor.”
 
In a fitting gesture, Monsignor Emilio Vallina led Saturday’s service. On the day of the bombing 25 years ago, Vallina was at the St. John Bosco rectory when he heard a loud explosion. At the time, militant Cuban exiles were rocking the city with bombs.
 
Vallina rushed to the parking lot of Spanish-language station WQBA-La Cubanisima, then a block away, to find Milian, the station’s news director, in his mangled car.
 
“He was conscious the whole time,” Vallina said of Milian. “His legs were destroyed. At that moment, I gave him his last rites, but I knew this was a man with a lot of faith. I knew this wasn’t the end.”
 
In a eulogy that won a standing ovation from the crowd of about 300, Alberto Milian told how his father pieced his life back together - refusing to be intimidated or silenced.
 
“Six months after the bombing, he walked out of a hospital on artificial legs. No warrior stood taller that day,” his son said, pointing at his father’s casket, draped with a 50-year-old Cuban flag.
 
Those responsible for the attack on Milian have never been arrested.
 
“They must be humiliated today, hiding in some dark corner. They didn’t silence my father, instead they made him a symbol,” his son said.
 
Milián, who was never aligned to any Cuban exile organization, always pushed for a free Cuba. After returning to the airwaves in 1989, he continued his work. Recently, his health and voice gave out and his son took over his on-air duties. Alberto Milian, a former Broward County prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran for Miami-Dade state attorney last year, said his father held no bitterness toward his attackers:
 
“Hate will destroy you if you let it into your heart,” Emilio Milian often told his family.
Seven years ago, Milian, known for his simple, but elegant editorials, wrote one about his wish for a final resting place.
 
“When I die, don’t bury my remains in a cold tomb . . . burn me and throw my ashes into the four winds. That way I will bath in the sun and rain, and I will be an eternal traveler of the universe.”
 
He will get his wish, his son said.

RADIO COMEBACK

Published July 6, 1989
 
Miami radio listeners once again heard the booming voice of Spanish-language newscaster Emilio Milian at 12:11 p.m. Wednesday, more than 13 years after a terrorist bomb blew off his legs and threatened to end his broadcast career.
 
Milian’s comeback on his own station - WWFE-AM 670 - took on a religious tone, as he quoted solemnly from the Old Testament and received blessings from two clergymen.
 
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” Milian said, as he concluded the five- minute editorial resurrecting his career. “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
 
Milian’s editorial recounted the April 30, 1976, incident when, as he left work and turned the ignition of his car, a bomb in the engine exploded and destroyed his legs. Milian, then news director of WQBA-La Cubanisima, had received death threats for his editorials lambasting terrorist activity in the Cuban exile community.
 
He spent five months in the hospital and left walking on artificial legs.
 
On his return to WQBA, he was promoted to vice president of public relations. Station officials fired him in June 1977, saying he refused to do on-air duties. Milian said he didn’t because management gave no guarantee his commentaries wouldn’t be censored.
 
“The station silenced me,” Milian said in his editorial Wednesday. “Not the terrorists.”
 
No one was ever arrested for the bombing.
 
Milian’s wife, Emma Mirtha, sat next to her husband in the sound booth Wednesday. After he finished, she slipped away, her eyes moist.
 
“I’m moved, but not afraid,” she said. “This is the destiny God has set for him. I accepted the tragedy. I accept this too.”
 
For the first time since he hit the airwaves, at age 12 in his hometown of Sagua La Grande in Cuba, Milian, 57, is actually controlling the destiny of his programming. As sole owner, president, general manager and news director of WWFE, things will go his way.
 
The biggest bulk of the station’s programming -- about 90 percent -- will be news and commentary, interspersed with soap operas, comedies and music. Milian will do a commentary daily and a one-hour call-in talk show at 6 p.m. that he once was host of on WQBA: Habla el Pueblo, The People Speak.
 
Wednesday, Milian became the first Miami Spanish-language broadcaster to break ranks with fellow commentators on the emotionally charged issue of Orlando Bosch, the anti-Castro militant ordered deported two weeks ago by the U.S. Justice Department.
 
In a press conference after his commentary, Milian said Bosch once belonged to a terrorist organization, CORU, “and I am 100 percent against terrorism.”
 
Milian said Bosch should not be deported to Cuba, which has sentenced him to death in the 1973 bombing of a Cuban jetliner. But he said Bosch should be dealt with according to law.
 
“This is a country of order,” he said. “If you and I are obligated to comply with the law, then there should be no exceptions.”
 
The U.S. Justice Department has ruled out Cuba as a deportation destination for Bosch, who was tried in Venezuela and acquitted of the Cuban jetliner bombing.
 
Milian and his staff of 25 insist the station will bring a fresh perspective to Spanish-language radio in South Florida. News will not be mixed with opinion, Milian said.
 
Ours will be information without adjectives,” said Ernesto Morales, who writes copy for the newscast.
 
Staffers, including Emilio Milian Jr., vice president and general sales manager, say they have eliminated fear from their vocabulary.
 
“Cubans here are more willing to accept new ideas,” Milian Jr. said. “Thirteen years ago I never thought I’d see him on the radio again, but Miami has changed.”

EXCERPTS FROM MILIAN’S COMMENTARY

More than 13 years ago, on April 30, 1976 . . . a powerful explosion caused by a terrorist’s bomb blew off my legs and almost ended my life.
 
It was evident that the truths I was saying could not be answered with words and ideas by some totalitarian elements who abuse the privileges that this democratic, civilized society grants them . . . .
 
I walk without yielding, on artificial legs, and my heart is free of hatred, something that my aggressors cannot say. Neither fear nor hatred have paralyzed me . . . .
 
I never had doubts that I would reach my goal. Of course, I cannot run. But neither can I kneel. That is why it has taken me so long. I believe, as the great French writer Victor Hugo said, that “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

RECOVERING FROM THE BOMBING

Published April 30, 1983
 
He says he has recovered physically and emotionally from the car bomb that almost killed him, but his dream of owning his own radio station still eludes him.
 
The telltale signs are few: a slightly stiff walk and a zigzagging brown scar on the inside of his left arm, just below the wrist. The memories are everywhere, though: in the plaques hanging in the paneled Florida room, in the scrapbooks containing scores of newspaper clippings, in his own mind, most of all.
 
Seven years after a terrorist bomb nearly killed him, Emilio Milian hasn’t changed his mind about the intent behind the attack.
 
“I saw it then, and I still see it, as an attempt to silence me,” he says.
 
Then, after a pause: “And they succeeded. In a way.”
 
At 51, the broadcaster who once commanded the bulk of Latin radio listeners in this city is far from silent. But his principal forum these days is his own home.
 
Fourteen months after the April 1976 bombing, WQBA, the station where Milian rose through the ranks until he became vice president of public relations, fired him. Since then, Milian’s dream of starting his own radio station has been tangled in a web of battles with the Federal Communications Commission.
 
Once an active promoter and participant of Latin community events, a popular personality who frequently addressed conferences and conventions, Milian now rarely appears in public.
 
“I make much of my life at home. We frequently have friends over, just about every day. When I go out, it’s usually to someone’s home, for a gathering of friends. And we go to church functions. We only go out to very select places.”
 
Last year, Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre appointed Milian chairman of a citizens committee to investigate the clash between Cuban exiles and police during a demonstration to protest the deportation of a Cuban stowaway.
 
“It was my civic duty to participate and I think we did a fair job,” says Milian.
 
But, he concedes, he prefers to stay out of the limelight until he is back “at the helm of a medium.”
 
Over the years, he has made real estate investments that have paid off handsomely, allowing him to support his family.
 
“We’ve never lacked anything. After the accident, a lot of people wanted to raise money for us, but we’ve never needed financial assistance.”
 
The family has lived at the same Northwest Miami home since 1971. The iron grillwork that covers the windows was installed long before the bombing, Milian says, as a deterrent to burglars. His telephone number has always been unlisted.
 
He is licensed to carry a revolver and has done so since before the bombing. But he stresses he does not fear further attempts on his life. “I don’t think I’m a target now. And, besides, if someone is bent on trying to kill you, he will try anyway.”
 
His days are spent reading and writing, for the most part. He reads several newspapers but shuns the Spanish-language broadcast media.
 
“I don’t want to get used to it. I don’t want it to color my own ideas, the ideas I have for my own station.”
 
Milian plays down the bitterness when he speaks of the attack that changed his life seven years ago.
 
“I am, fundamentally, a man of great faith. Physically and mentally, my recovery has been complete. All of us -- my wife and my children -- talk freely about the bombing. No one is traumatized or haunted by it.”
 
The mystery surrounding the incident never has been resolved. On April 30, 1976, Milian, who was then the news and program director at WQBA, turned on the ignition of the company station wagon he frequently used and a bomb ripped through the hood, virtually severing his legs and mangling much of his body.
 
Earlier this month, a Herald investigation of previously secret Justice Department documents revealed that an eyewitness reported seeing anti-Castro terrorist Gaspar Jimenez working on Milian’s car shortly before the blast, but the informant was deemed “unreliable” by authorities, despite the fact that he passed 10 polygraph tests.
 
Milian says he has received scores of calls after the Herald article was published “from people who inevitably ask how can this happen in this country. I can only tell them I don’t know.”
 
Emma, his wife of 25 years, says: “None of us harbors any hatred. From the moment of the attack, we’ve all faced the fact that there’s no going back, that you have to move forward and, with God’s help, that’s what we’ve done.”
 
The three Milian children, however, complain about the handling of their father’s case.
 
“You know, I’m a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves,” says Alberto, 22, a senior at Florida International University who plans to go to law school in the fall. “A lot of my reasons for joining the Army were because I was very committed to what this country was about. It dampens my commitment when I see something like this take place.”
 
“I’m bitter because nothing has been done. Nobody has been tried. Everything’s in limbo,” says Mirtha Mary, 19, a Miami- Dade Community College student.
 
“I realize nothing is going to bring his limbs back,” says Emilio, 23, also a student at FIU. “But I believe in justice.”
 
Milian’s broadcasting career began in a radio station at his hometown of Sagua La Grande, in Cuba’s Las Villas province, where as a 15-year-old high school student, he was co-host of a program for young people.
 
After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Havana’s medical school, but quit school to devote himself full time to broadcasting. By the time he left Cuba in 1965, he had acquired a reputation as a good newsman with excellent delivery.
 
In Miami, he bought a print shop and worked part time at WMIE, a station that devoted part of its daily programming to Spanish-language news and commentary. By 1971, WMIE had become WQBA and Milian had become news director.
 
At WQBA, he was responsible for the station’s editorials, news reports, daily commentaries and a handful of programs, including a phone-in talk show, “The People Speak.”
 
WQBA’s editorial position was then, as it is now, staunchly anti-Communist. But in his commentaries, Milian espoused a controversial philosophy: He repeatedly denounced terrorist actions in the name of liberating Cuba.
 
“I received death threats on the air,” he recalls. “The police knew about the threats, and they told me they were keeping a watch on me.”
 
The explosion nearly severed Milian’s legs, tore a hole in his stomach and left gashes on his left arm and the left side of his face. In five months at Jackson Memorial Hospital, he underwent 11 operations, including the amputation of both legs below the knee, and stomach, eye and ear surgery.
 
By the time he emerged from the hospital, walking on artificial legs and aided by a cane, Milian had become a folk hero.
 
But upon rejoining WQBA in October 1976, the outspoken newsman, who had vowed repeatedly he would not be silenced by the attack, found his bosses did not share his zeal for rekindling the controversy.
 
Milian was promoted to vice president of public relations.
 
“I waskicked upstairs,” he says. “At the beginning, I wasn’t totally aware of what was going on. I kept expecting to go back on the air, as before. But they were afraid.”
 
Herb Levin, WQBA’s general manager at the time, says, “After the bombing, I felt that Emilio should not go back on the air in a direct confrontation with the audience over the phone, for his own safety and the safety of other members of the staff.”
 
Milian says that besides blocking his talk show appearances, Levin also tried to censor his editorials and commentaries, an allegation Levin denies. In June 1977, the rift between the newsman and the manager resulted in Milian’s dismissal.
 
“I think he became embittered after the bombing, and I think he had every right to feel that. He chooses to focus some of his bitterness and anger toward me. But I don’t have any problem with my conscience,” says Levin, now the president of S.R. Associates Inc. and an owner of Spanish-language radio station WSUA. “I would probably do the same thing if I had to do it over again.”
 
Milian has been frustrated in his attempts to get back on the air. Efforts to buy such stations as WFUN, WKAT and WWOK “fell through, for one reason or another.”
 
Since 1978, he has been battling to get FCC approval for the license previously owned by WFAB. But although an administrative judge initially ruled in favor of Milian’s New Continental Broadcasting Co., another group vying for the same license, New Radio America Broadcasting, won the license on appeal. Milian’s company has since appealed, and a final ruling has not been issued.
 
The former broadcaster has not lacked offers to work at local Spanish-language stations, among them, WRHC. General manager Salvador Lew, who has known Milian since Cuba, would not disclose in what capacity he would employ Milian, but says he “would definitely have a place here.”
 
“None of the offers have satisfied me,” says Milian. “I don’t want to limit myself. I want my own medium, where I would once again be in control.”
 
Those who know Milian professionally profess unanimous respect for him. They describe him as a highly competent, dedicated broadcaster and a morally upright man.
 
Eduardo Gonzalez Rubio, a WQBA newscaster since 1960, says Milian “knew his business and knew how to be in command. I’d have to say he never had any problems with true professionals.”
 
“He was a very effective manager who was respected and admired by his staff,” says Levin.
Others, who refused to be identified, said that while Milian was certainly effective, he was also exceedingly authoritative.
 
“I’d have to say that you couldn’t find a better man to run a radio station. But I’d also have to say I wouldn’t work for him. He’s got a huge ego,” says one former colleague.
 
One former member of the citizens committee said Milian “was arrogant” and “ran the meetings like a dictator.”
 
However, Vince McGee, another member of the group, says he was impressed with Milian’s “ability to handle not only the Cuban members of the panel but the others as well. He was able to strike a balance, to keep our debates in the proper perspective. If he had an ego, it didn’t come out.”
 
Milian is certainly confident in his own ability to regain the stature he once held in broadcasting.
 
“I know what the people want, and I am ready to go on the air tomorrow. I’m just waiting for the FCC ruling, and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll try again, with another station.
 
“Radio is my vocation. I might be successful in business, but that’s not where my true vocation lies. You have to do what you love to do, and radio is what I love to do. “