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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FBI's Fugitive Is Cuba's Political Refugee

By Vanessa Bauza

MAY 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Guillermo Morales is a shy, soft-spoken man with streaks of gunpowder embedded in his nose, chin and cheeks and nubs where his hands should be. In 1978, as a member of a militant Puerto Rican separatist group, Morales blew off his hands when a pipe bomb he was assembling in a New York safe house accidentally exploded.

Sentenced to 89 years in prison for firearms possession, Morales escaped from a Bellevue Hospital prison ward in 1979 and went underground for several years before slipping across the border into Mexico. The Mexican government refused to extradite him, and in 1988 Morales fled to Havana, where he has found a haven outside the grasp of U.S. authorities.

To the FBI, Morales, 52, is a fugitive from justice. To the Cuban government he's a political refugee, one of about 20 Americans, many of whom were members of militant black groups in the 1960s, with outstanding arrest warrants who have remade their lives here, according to State Department sources.

Last week, the State Department once again listed Cuba as a terrorism sponsor, along with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan. The annual global terrorism review made no mention of Cuba's alleged sharing of biological warfare research with "rogue states," an accusation made by the Bush administration earlier this month. Instead, the report focused on international and U.S. fugitives who it says live here as Fidel Castro's "privileged guests."

As political refugees, Morales, his Cuban wife and their son, Rodrigo, 5, live off a stipend from the Cuban government, but he says it's a modest sum, which they stretch with occasional remittances from friends abroad. He admits he is sometimes homesick for New York, but he also still believes in movements like the one he joined as a college student in the 1970s and hopes to one day see Puerto Rico "liberated."

"There's nothing like your home, but I have no regrets," Morales said. "I'm a revolutionary who supports a revolutionary movement. This is a revolutionary government that's perfecting itself every day."

The oldest son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Morales was raised in East Harlem tenements and had never set foot on Puerto Rico when friends asked him to join the FALN, the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation.

From the mid-1970s to the late '80s, the group targeted public and commercial buildings in New York and Chicago and eventually was linked to more than 125 bombings, the deadliest of which killed four people on Christmas Eve 1975 at Fraunces Tavern near Wall Street. Morales won't say how many bombings he took part in, but says no one was killed in the bombings in which he participated.

Morales now spends much of his time writing for Claridad, a pro- independence weekly published in Puerto Rico. He said he doesn't have time to "hang out" with other radicals who've sought refuge here, though he said he sometimes runs into Assata Shakur, the former Joanne Chesimard, the most wanted of the American fugitives.

A former Black Panther, Shakur escaped from a women's prison in 1979 after being convicted for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. Shakur is listed in the Havana phonebook, though repeated calls yielded no answer.

As far as the State Department's terrorist list, Morales dismisses it much the same way the Cuban government does, pointing to a history of terrorism here at the hands of extremist anti- Castro groups in Miami.

Morales is not worried about being extradited and will live here until he is cleared of his charges or given a full presidential pardon, something his lawyer briefly looked into before President Clinton left office.

Eleven former FALN members, including Dylcia Pagan, Morales' ex- wife, received pardons from Clinton in his last days in office. But once Morales knew he would have to return to the United States and prison, he dropped his inquiry.

"Things change so much in the world," he said. "I live day by day."

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