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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Free Cuba Foundation: 20 years of denouncing the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down

Armando, Carlos, Mario y Pablo Viven! 

What happened: An act of state terrorism by the Castro regime that killed four persons
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 will mark 20 years since Fidel and Raul Castro ordered Cuban MiGs to hunt and shoot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes that at the time were in international airspace killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29). A thorough international investigation carried out by the Inter-American Commission on the merits made public in 1999 concluded:
"Cuba is responsible for violating the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, who died as a result of the direct actions of its agents on the afternoon of 24 February 1996 while flying through international airspace."
Furthermore with the issue of justice for the four victims and their families the IACHR report stated:

"Cuba is responsible for violating the right to a fair trial (Article XVIII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of the relatives of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, in that to date the Cuban authorities have not conducted an exhaustive investigation with a view toward prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators and have not indemnified those same relatives for the damage they suffered as a result of those illicit acts."
How we've remembered and continue to demand justice
Beginning in the days following the February 24, 1996 shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes the Free Cuba Foundation organized silent vigils for justice at Florida International University and the University of Miami and took part in a flotilla to remember and pay our respects to Mario De La Peña, Armando Alejandre, an FIU alumnus, Carlos Costa and Pablo Morales. Over the next two decades at the end of February at Florida International University students and family members of the four martyred men would gather in silence between 3:21pm the time the first plane was shot down and 3:27pm the time the second plane was shot down in a vigil for justice. Below is a partial recollection of the past two decades. Join us on February 24, 2016 as we mark 20 years demanding justice and remembering a terrible crime. We are still updating this blog entry and welcome your input and recollections.

Free Cuba Foundation denounces planned shutdown of Miami International Airport and participates in the flotilla days later on March 2, 1996 to honor the four pilots who perished on February 24, 1996. The FIU Beacon gave extensive coverage in March of 1996 on Free Cuba Foundation's participation in the Flotilla for Brothers to the Rescue and activism on campus.

On February 24, 1997 at 3:20 pm the Free Cuba Foundation led the call for a prayer chain to honor the memory of the four young men who died one year earlier trying to save the lives of others.

Free Cuba Foundation participates in the planting of a tree at Florida International University to honor the memory of the 4 martyrs of Feb. 24, 1996. Jose Basulto and members of the family participated along with the University Community.

 On February 24, 1998 at 3:20 pm the FCF formed a chain of silence, and left white roses under the tree planted in their memory to honor the the 4 young men who died two years earlier trying to save the lives of others. Armando, Carlos, Mario y Pablo Viven!

On February 24, 1999 at 3:21 pm the FCF joined with the families of Armando, Carlos, Mario and Pablo and formed a seven minute chain of silence coinciding with the span of time in which both planes were shot down. Afterwards family members left white roses under the tree planted in their memory to honor the the 4 young men who died three years earlier trying to save the lives of others. Armando, Carlos, Mario y Pablo Viven!

In the early morning hours of February 24, 2000 students from American University, Catholic University, and Georgetown University signed the Washington Consortium Declaration announcing the formation of the Free Cuba Foundation - Washington Consortium.On February 24 at 3:21 pm the

FCF formed two chains of silence, one at FIU's main fountain and another in Washington DC in front of the Department of Justice. Afterwards FCF (FIU) members left white roses under the tree planted in memory of the 4 young men who died four years earlier trying to save the lives of others. FCF (DC) delivered a formal communication to Attorney General Reno demanding justice. Meanwhile members of FCF(DC) marched in a picket line for the next few hours demanding justice. Armando, Carlos, Mario y Pablo Viven!

Washington Consortium Declaration

We the Students of the Washington Consortium recognizing that students have played a leading role in the protection of human rights around the world, do hereby declare our support for the principles, and purposes enshrined in Concilio Cubano's founding statement in Havana, on October 10, 1995:
FIRST: The determination to work for a non-violent transition toward a democratic society under the rule of law, devoid of any vindictiveness, and equally comprising all Cubans.

SECOND: Obtaining unconditional amnesty for all political prisoners.

THIRD: Launching a series of legal transformations that will provide the necessary framework, within the law, to secure absolute respect for all universally recognized human rights, as well as equal participation by all Cubans in an opening process that will lead to economic independence.

FOURTH: The belief that, in order to harmonize the peaceful transition we are advocating the principle that Cuba is the fatherland and the home of each and every Cuban, it is essential to provide such conditions as will guarantee participation for all Cubans, with no exclusions whatsoever.

Concilio Cubano was designed to be a permanent forum where all participating organizations could fashion joint proposals while maintaining their own identity. We the students believe that the systematic denial of human rights and human dignity in Cuba cannot be tolerated. We believe that the moral and pragmatic solution is non-violent resistance to the intolerable situation in Cuba.

On February 24, 1996 our generation of Cuban youth had its first four losses in this struggle. Mario De La Peña, Armando Alejandre, an FIU alumnus, Carlos Costa and Pablo Morales where of our generation. Four years after the massacre of February 24. We the students wish to join with our brothers and sisters inside of Cuba for the liberation of the Cuban nation.

To this end we seek to follow the lead of the internal opposition, embrace the principles of non-violent resistance, speak out on behalf of Cuba's prisoners of conscience, and issue a call to educate students about the history and reality of the ongoing tragedy in Cuba. Therefore, we form the Free Cuba Foundation in the Washington Consortium.

Signed on February 24, 2000

Sandy Acosta
American University
Mario Morlote
Camila Ruiz
Catholic University

February 24, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno
Office of the Attorney General
Department of Justice
Tenth Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Madam Attorney General Reno,

I just spoke with the mother of Mario Manuel de la Peña, 24 years of age when he was murdered by agents of the Cuban government. She spoke on behalf of the other families when she stated, "We want justice. We want them [those responsible] indicted."

We are here today engaging in a moment of silence coinciding with the time 3:21pm - 3:27pm in which the planes carrying all four were blown out of the sky by Cuban MiGs.
On behalf of the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and daughters of Mario, Pablo, Carlos, and Armando I beg you that you provide them with a little justice for a devastating loss.

John Suarez
Free Cuba Foundation
Graham Center 340
Florida International University
Miami, FL 33199

Sandy Acosta
Free Cuba Foundation
Washington Consortium
2907 "Q" St., NW
Washington DC. 20007

February 24, 1996 Shoot-down recalled / The Miami Herald
Shoot-down recalled

Mahatma Gandhi observed: "To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies
in loving in spite of the vivid knowledge that the one that must be
loved is not a friend. There is no merit in loving an enemy when you
forget him for a friend."

For a decade the Free Cuba Foundation has organized silent vigils on
the anniversaries of the 13 de Marzo tugboat sinking that resulted in
the deaths of 37 men, women and children on July 13, 1994, and the
shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on Feb. 24, 1996, which
resulted in the murders of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La
Peña and Armando Alejandre, a Florida International University alum.
Our objective is to show that FIU students remember these crimes and
continue to demand justice.

On Feb. 24 at 3:20 p.m. we will hold a seven-minute silent vigil at
FIU's main fountain facing the Charles Perry building. This coincides
with the time that the planes were shot down by Cuban MiGs in
international airspace. Family members of the victims will join the

Free Cuba Foundation
Florida International University

 Current Issue: Monday, February 28, 2005
In memory

Media Credit: Luis Nin and Jessica Marshall/The Beacon

(Top and bottom, center) President Modesto A. Maidique holds hands with
family members and FIU students and staff during a Brothers to the
Rescue silent vigil held on Feb. 24. The memorial was held to honor the
death of the four Brothers to the Rescue members who lost their lives
during a humanitarian effort in international waters near Cuba. "We
hold this moment of silence every year on this day," said Neri
Martinez, the Free Cuba Foundation coordinator and vigil planner.
Following the commemorative memorial, family members announced that
with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, two rewards
of$100,000 and $50,000 will be given to anyone with information leading
to the capture and arrest of known suspects involved in the 1996

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Today, February 24, 2004 between 3:20-3:27pm members of the Free Cuba
Foundation led by Neri Martinez along with other FIU students, family
members of the martyrs, and members of the FIU community held a silent vigil at
Florida International University with hands linked in a circular human
chain around the main water fountain. The vigil was seven minutes long
coinciding with the time that both planes were shotdown by Cuban MiGs
in international airspace.

We have an on-line website at
that offers information on the Brothers to Rescue organization, and
places the shootdown into context.

Members of the press asked if students at FIU still remembered this
tragedy. By our actions today we have answered their question. We
shall not forget until justice is done for the families of the

Free Cuba Foundation
Graham Center 340
Florida International University
Miami, FL. 33199

Supporters and family members of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots shot down 13 years ago gathered on February 24, 2009 around UP’s Graham Center fountain to commemorate the anniversary of their death.

In 2009 UM Causa held a vigil on February 24 at the Rock at the University while we were at FIU holding the traditional vigil at the main fountain at FIU.

On February 25, 2010 El Nuevo Herald reported on the previous days silent vigil at FIU:
Around seventy persons carried out a silent vigil at the Modesto Maidique campus of Florida International University, to commemorate the fourteenth anniversary of the downing of two civilian airplanes of the organization Brothers to the Rescue by the Air Force of Cuba on February 24, 1996, where four persons died.

The vigil, organized by the Free Cuba Foundation of FIU and families of the victims of the shoot down, lasted exactly seven minutes, from 3:21pm to 3:27 p.m., the time that both planes piloted by  Carlos Costa and Mario Manuel de la Peña, respectively where downed, in 1996. Armando Alejandre Jr. and Pablo Morales also died. 
"We are infintely grateful to the students of FIU, because those of us who are older will pass on, but they show us that the youth continue to remember our departed relatives," said Mirta Costa Méndez, sister of Carlos Costa.
The vigil, held since 1996, has as an objective to demonstrate in a civic nonviolent act that the students of FIU continue to remember the victims of Brothers to the Rescue and the political prisoners of Cuba.

Read more here:

Blogs have documented silent vigils at FIU for the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

 Over the past two decades we have sought through a civic nonviolent action to remember what happened on February 24, 1996 and continue to demand justice for Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario Manuel de la Peña, and Pablo Morales. Wherever you are in the world please join us in spirit and action by holding a silent vigil for justice between 3:21pm and 3:27pm the time both planes were shot down by the dictatorship in Cuba.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Vigil for Brothers to the Rescue Shoot Down Victims

Justice for Armando, Mario, Carlos and Pablo!

Every year since the week following the 1996 shoot-down, FCF members have joined together to hold a silent vigil at Florida International University on February 24th between 3:21pm and 3:27pm at the times both planes were blown up by Castro's MiGs in remembrance of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo who gave their lives in service to others in a continuing demand for justice. This tradition has been maintained for the past 19 years and this year on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 3:21pm we will gather with the families of the four martyrs to mark 20 years.
What:   Vigil for BTTR shoot down victims 
When:  Gather @ 3pm Vigil starts 3:21pm on Wednesday, February 24
Where: Main Fountain
             Florida International University 
             11200 South West 8th Street Miami, FL
Twenty years ago on February 24, 1996 at 3:21pm and at 3:27pm two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by Cuban MiGs that launched air to air missiles in international airspace extra-judicially executing Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre Jr in an act of state terrorism. Video playlist below offers information on the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Young Activists Reply to Open Letter by Cuban-American Businessmen

"To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies in loving in spite of the vivid knowledge that the one that must be loved is not a friend. There is no merit in loving an enemy when you forget him for a friend." - Mohandas Gandhi 
Cuban American businessmen invited to Embassy while Cuban barred from delivering letter
On December 20, 2015 The Miami Herald published an open letter by ten prominent Cuban-American businessmen as a full page advertisement. We read the letter with great concern. We are young enough to be their children and grandchildren. Some of us were born in Cuba while others in the diaspora. We do not question their good intentions or believe that they have a hidden agenda and like them we would like to see the reunification of our larger Cuban family. We also agree that we and the world have changed.

The Cuban diaspora has matured and a debate that decades ago would have ended in acrimony and threats, although still passionate today, can be conducted within the norms of democratic discourse. Although this is a change that bodes well for Cuba's future, the world has also changed in ways that are not for the better. Human rights and democracy have been in retreat for the better part of a decade emboldening dictators and terrorists to challenge the international order turning it into something cruel and indifferent to human aspirations for freedom and dignity. We are witnessing today in Venezuela the attempt by the Maduro regime to undermine the results of a democratic election while at the same time rejecting calls for an amnesty to free Venezuelan prisoners of conscience. This change poses a challenge for a democratic Cuba in the future.

This new reality is in large part due to unprincipled engagement with Communist China by Western Countries, including the United States. Corporations shifted manufacturing away from their free markets, labor unions, and environmental protections toward Communist China were workers are paid slave wages, work in terrible conditions and where environmental regulations are non-existent. The world today is dirtier, less free, and human dignity has been debased to the point that organ trafficking is a common practice and the bodies of dissidents are put on display for the amusement and curiosity of paying visitors around the world.

Some of the men who signed this open letter took part in this process in China. We are not, however here to criticize them but to provide context to what they wish to do in Cuba and the reasons why they continue down this path with the belief that they are operating in good faith.

We are joining this public conversation because we believe that we can provide a constructive contribution to the discussion. This necessitates recalling the wise words of the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), who observed: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts." The authors of "An Open Letter to our fellow Cuban-Americans" assert that they visited Cuba "to confront the myths that can only persist in the absence of first-hand knowledge" and challenge "those who continue to hear news about Cuba second-hand, we do not believe that you are being well served without seeing the changing Cuban reality on the island with your own eyes, as we have with ours."

Unfortunately, visiting a totalitarian dictatorship to obtain "first-hand knowledge" has historically been a fool’s errand. Before they had set foot aboard the plane for Havana they should have first read, Paul Hollander's Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society. This sociology text analyzes how totalitarian regimes, such as the one in Cuba, are able to disguise the horrors taking place in their systems presenting it in a positive light to visitors:
The techniques of hospitality comprise an entire range of measures designed to influence the perception and judgement of the guests; it is a form of attempted persuasion by "evidence," the evidence of the senses. As such, these techniques represent a concentrated effort to maximize control over the experiences of the visitors. Naturally the more centralized and powerful the host governments and the greater their control over the resources of their countries and their citizens, the more successful they are in controlling the experiences of the visitor. Insofar as each one of the four countries [ USSR, China, Cuba, Vietnam] at the times of the visits could be regarded as totalitarian, the possibilities for shaping the visitor's impressions and experiences were greatly enhanced. [ pg. 347 - 348 Hollander Political Pilgrims]
This practice is not limited to left wing totalitarians but was also effectively carried out by the Nazi Third Reich in presenting a false impression to a visiting International Red Cross delegation. As reported by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
"Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans permitted representatives from the Danish Red Cross and the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax. The Germans intensified deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was "beautified." Gardens were planted, houses painted, and barracks renovated. The Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944."
The call for tourism to obtain first-hand knowledge in a totalitarian regime also fails to address the real dangers of traveling to Cuba, including the brutal murder of a 39-year-old Tampa attorney in January of 2015 in Havana.

It is also important to remember that the Castro regime (it is not a proper government but a dictatorship) rolled out the red carpet for these 10 Cuban-American businessmen some of whom were invited to the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC on July 20, 2015. That same embassy, within 24 hours of inviting them in, refused to allow Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo to enter to deliver a letter from her family requesting the autopsy report for her father Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who was killed on July 22, 2012 along with Harold Cepero under circumstances that point to an extrajudicial execution. The family is entitled to this report by Cuban law but three years later have yet to receive it.

As advocates for a free and democratic Cuba, in good conscience, we cannot say that progress has been made on both sides of the Florida Straits. On the contrary the past 12 months have seen new lows reached on both sides that had not been seen in decades. In Cuba there have been rising levels of violence against activists and 8,616 politically motivated arbitrary detentions in 2015. The Obama State Department snubbed Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo in stark contrast to the treatment given to her father in 2002 who had a face to face meeting with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. In Cuba the US embassy did not invite dissidents to the flag raising ceremony. Now there is a new policy which has placed accreditation, previously handled in the U.S. Interests Section, in the hands of the Castro regime's Ministry of Foreign Relations which in practice means that independent journalists are no longer covering events at the U.S. embassy in Havana and dissidents have had their access dramatically restricted.

The December 17, 2014 announcement by the President broke new ground in only one area releasing Gerardo Hernandez, a Cuban spy and terrorist, convicted of murder conspiracy of three U.S. citizens and a resident. Not only did President Obama commute the sentence but a few days later tried to rewrite history calling an act of international terrorism, the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, a tragedy.

Removing Cuba from the list of terror sponsors on May 29, 2015 while ignoring the Castro regime smuggling heavy weapons to North Korea (which is again in the news with a company in Singapore found guilty of transferring funds) and weapon shipments through Colombia and its links to international drug trafficking to satisfy the dictatorship’s demand in order normalize relations sends a dangerous signal. Politicizing the State Department’s human trafficking report to ignore sex trafficking in Cuba and the dictatorship sending Cuban workers overseas for profit compromised its integrity placing victims at risk. These unilateral concessions ignore realities on the ground and undermine the credibility of the United States and endanger lives.

The Obama administration "new policy" of unilateral concessions which began in 2009 has produced a bitter harvest and the December 17, 2014 announcement was a doubling down on this failed policy that has a high profile body count.

Cuba has seen rising levels of violence against nonviolent activists and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders during the Obama presidency: Orlando Zapata Tamayo (February 23, 2010), Daisy Talavera de las Mercedes Lopez (January 31, 2011) , Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (May 8, 2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (October 14, 2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (January 19, 2012), Sergio Diaz Larrastegui (April 19, 2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (July 22, 2012) and Harold Cepero Escalante (July 22, 2012).

Both Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá each had the international recognition and ability to head an authentic democratic transition in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá had forced the dictatorship to change the constitution in 2002 because of Project Varela, a citizen initiative demanding legal reforms within the existing system, and Laura Pollán through constant street demonstrations achieved the freedom of scores of Cuban prisoners of conscience. It is important to remember that the deaths of these high profile human rights defenders all happened on President Obama's watch.

Unfortunately, following this new relationship between the United States and Cuba the pattern of violence against activists was escalated by the Castro regime. Cuban human rights defender, Sirley Ávila León, a 56 year old mother of two and a one-time delegate of the People’s Assembly of Majibacoa worked through official channels to represent her community but when they ignored her requests to keep a school open she went to the international media and was later removed from office. She then joined the democratic opposition which led to escalating acts of repression by state security against her culminating in a machete attack in Cuba on May 24, 2015 by Osmany Carrión who had been sent by state security agents. While raising her hand to block a machete blow to the head, she suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand and the machete cut through the bone of her right humerus leaving her arm dangling. She is still in danger while her assailant is free to walk the streets of Cuba.

These realities demonstrate that courage demands that we maintain both our dignity and an open mind in resisting and rejecting this approach which twice before (in 1977-1980 and 1993-2000) has proved disastrous to both Cubans and Americans. We cannot ignore that Cubans on the island recognize that this policy will prolong the life of the dictatorship and more than 70,000 have fled to freedom and many more would like to leave because they do not have confidence in the Castro regime and the claims that progress has been made. Their daily reality in Cuba says otherwise and no amount of propaganda and manipulation is going to change that. We need to face this hard future with courage and dignity prioritizing the person over ideologies and remembering the words of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas four months prior to his untimely death:
"Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to 'assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island.' The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of a fraudulent change. [...] The gradual approach only makes sense if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It is time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim: Changes that signify freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight."
Vigil on February 24, 2015 demanding justice for four Brothers to the Rescue members killed in 1996

Signed by,

Juan Carlos Sanchez
Cesar Vasquez
Harold Silva
John Suarez
Augusto Monge
Yosvani Oliva
Pedro Ross
Stephanie Rudat
Colena Corley
Pamela Adan
Lourdes Palomo  

(E-mail if you are a student or University alumnus and would like to have your name added)