On April 30, 1976, prominent Miami radio host Emilio Milian left the WQBA station in Little Havana, got into his station wagon, and turned on the ignition, detonating a bomb under the hood. Standing ten feet away, Rosa Delgado witnessed the explosion.
“There was dark smoke and flames,” she told the Miami Herald. “I tried to open the door but it was too hot. I told him to help me help him. His eyes were full of pain.”
Later, at Jackson Memorial Hospital, doctors amputated both of Milian’s legs below the knees. He would undergo many operations after the bombing and ultimately survive.
No one was ever officially accused of planting the bomb, but Miami’s Cuban community knew it had been meant to punish Milian, a Cuban émigré, for speaking out against violence in the name of anti-Castroism on his popular radio show, “El Pueblo Habla” (The People Speak). At the time, dissenting even slightly against the anti-Castro hard line, such as the generally conservative Milian had done, could get one killed.
Emilio Milian died in 2001. His son, attorney Alberto Milian, 50, considered it the end of a generation of men and women who had waged a principled, non-violent battle against Castro, and for democracy, but never tasted victory. He says the reason many young Miamians have never heard of his father is because Miami’s establishment whitewashed the city’s history.
“You had a concerted effort to try to put suits on these ape men,” he says, referring to the political terrorists who attacked his father and others.
I contacted Milian for my essay-in-progress on Joan Didion’s Miami (see related posts HERE), thinking few had a more personal connection to the city’s bloody past. I wanted to hear his take on how and why Miami had evolved from a place where violence resolved political disputes to the relatively calmer city of today.
In our first conversation, Milian quickly proved himself more than the son of an important figure in Miami history. A fascinating character in his own right, he is a decorated U.S. Army veteran who specialized in counterintelligence, served in the 1989 Panama invasion and the 1991 Gulf War, and earned a citation for meritorious service from the CIA.
As a Broward prosecutor in the 1990s, Milian was known for battling defense attorneys (in 1999, he literally punched one in the courthouse lobby) and insulting juries, which on different occasions he called “buffoons,” “morons,” and “lobotomized zombies.”
Outbursts aside, Milian earned a reputation as a fearsome prosecutor. In 2000, he ran for Dade County state attorney, losing with 44 percent of the vote to Katherine Rundle, who still holds the office. After another loss in 2004, and a stint on local radio, he went into private practice as a defense attorney (of all things).
A complex character, Milian is the eloquent speaker whose use of profanity (off camera) would make Quentin Tarantino blush; the military man who quotes Jorge Luis Borges and Edmund Burke from memory; the former government employee and Police Benevolent Association attorney who calls himself “a disciple of punk music” and attended The Ramones last concert; the Republican who calls Carlos Alvarez, Miami’s Republican mayor, “a clown”; and the Cuban exile who labels both Fidel Castro and those who would assassinate Fidel Castro “political gangsters.”
Black-eyed and glisteningly bald, Milian says he joined the army and became a lawyer in part because of what happened to his father. In 2001, he reviewed police files and, according to a 2002 St. Petersburg Times profile, “was shocked to find strong evidence against several suspects.” Though he denies being “a teary-eyed, worshipful son,” it is clear that the bomb that took Emilio Milian’s legs endowed Alberto Milian with an intensity few possess. (The Borges reader in his office bookshelf contains an ex-girlfriend’s inscription: “To the most passionate man I know.”)
Yes, Milian is a rare breed and, although Cuban born, an unmistakable product of Miami, which he likens to “one of these surrealistic towns you find in Magic Realist novels.” Our interview with him kicks off the series “Miamians,” which will introduce interesting Miami folk to Beached Miami readers. (If you have any interviewee suggestions, please contact us.)
Without further ado, watch Alberto Milian (above) talk about a time in Miami when a man could lose his legs for speaking his mind.