The Miami Herald

November 7, 1975.  p.1B, 2B.


Hijacker:  Cuba Suspected Spying

By Miguel Perez

Herald Staff Writer

            Antulio Ramirez Ortiz, the one-time Miami electrician who was arrested at Miami International Airport last week and charged with committing the nation’s first act of air piracy 14 years ago, told a judge in Miami Wednesday that he had no problems living in Cuba until he tried to return to the U.S. some 12 years ago.

            He could go free on bond Monday, if federal officers can establish he has been trying to return.

            Ramirez, 49, is charged with hijacking a National Airlines flight on May 1, 1961.  He was arrested by FBI agents Friday afternoon when he arrived on a flight form Kingston, Jamaica.

            He said that his problems in Cuba began in 1963, when he began making efforts to return through the Swiss Embassy in Havana.

            “THEY THOUGHT I was doing some kind of espionage work,” said Ramirez, who served in Korea with the U.S. Army and received an honorable discharge.

            He was arrested for more than a month in 1963, he said.  He was arrested again in 1965, he said, and convicted of espionage, serving three years in a Cuban prison.

            When he was released from jail May 31, 1968, Ramirez said he went to the Swiss Embassy again, and made all the necessary arrangements to leave the island.  “Everything was paid,” he said, but the government denied his request to leave Cuba.

            Ramirez said he married his third wife in Havana in 1969 and worked as an electrician for Cuba’s sugar industry.  His wife moved to Los Angeles in 1970, he said.

            Again in 1972, Ramirez said he tried to leave Cuba on a small raft.  After two days at sea, he said he was captured by a Cuban gunboat and sentenced to another three years in prison.  He was released in August, he said.

            Ramirez said he arrived in Jamaica Nov. 11 and told the American Embassy the he was returning to the States.  He came 10 days later.

            “I’ve been trying to come back to the states for a long time,” said Ramirez, who was born in Puerto Rico.  “I could not stay in Cuba with a Soviet supported government.”

            MAGISTRATE Peter Palermo declined to reduce Ramirez’ $10,000 bond Wednesday, but said “the court would be inclined” to consider lowering the bond, if the FBI can check Ramirez’ claim that he came back, knowing he would face charges here.

            Ramirez remained in federal custody in Miami earlier this week, after another U.S. magistrate reduced his bond from $25,000 to $10,000 and gave him a court-appointed attorney, Magistrate Chalene Sorrentino Monday declined to release Ramirez, after she learned that the only place Ramirez had to live was with his wife in Los Angeles.

            Entering a plea of not guilty, Ramirez’ attorney, Michael Osman, told the court Wednesday that his client now has friends he can live with in Miami until the trial.

            Prosecuting U.S. attorney Don Ferguson said that even if Ramirez’ story is checked out by the FBI, he will still oppose lowering the $10,000 bond.

            The man who booked himself aboard a National Air Lines Miami-to-Key West flight under the name of “Elpir Cofresi” in 1961, seized the plane over Marathon, holding a steak knife and a gun on Capt. Francis X. Riley and ordering him to fly to Cuba.

            “Confresi” told Riley that Dominican strongman Rafael Trujillo had offered him $100,000 to assassinate Fidel Castro and that he was en route to warn the Cuban premier of the conspiracy.

            Osman said his client went to Cuba 14 years ago because he sympathized with the Castro government, but changed his mind…”like the feelings of the overwhelming majority of the American people changed.”

            “HE HAS BEEN fighting for the last 10 or 12 years to get back in this country,” Osman said.

            Palermo said “the government should have the opportunity to check into some things that he (Ramirez) said” in court Wednesday, and continued the bond hearing until Monday.

            Noting that Ramirez’ problems in Cuba began after he sent a threatening letter to the Swiss Emassy, the prosecuter said he would ask the FBI to check Ramirez’ story.

            Ramirez said he did not send the letter until 1973, “when I saw they didn’t do anything about my situation,” he said.  “And it was not a threatening letter.”