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Monday, December 29, 2014

To the United States government and the Castro regime we say, not in our name!

Statement by the Free Cuba Foundation in response to changes in U.S. - Cuba relations 

Silent vigil for Brothers to the Rescue shoot down victims

 On 17 December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. Cuba policy to loosen travel and economic policies and re-establish diplomatic relations. The Free Cuba Foundation believes that if the President’s objective is improved human rights and freedom for Cubans on the island, these changes reflect an alarming level of naivety and ignorance on the subject and outline a path that can actually harm the Cuban pro-democracy movement and its march towards freedom For this reason, FCF feels the need to make its position clear in the following statement.

The Free Cuba Foundation (FCF) was founded as a youth movement in 1993. Throughout its history, FCF has been a steadfast and independent voice in favor of nonviolent resistance to injustice and tyranny. We have consistently spoken up for victims of the dictatorship demanding justice while advocating freedom and national reconciliation. Freedom will emerge within Cuba from the bottom up not from initiatives by the dictatorship or the United States that until now have only served to legitimize a brutal totalitarian dictatorship. Our movement follows the nonviolent path of Cuba’s internal democratic opposition in embracing the principles of strategic nonviolence. We have demonstrated our commitment to non-violence through our support of Concilio Cubano, the Varela Project and other opposition initiatives for nonviolent change that have existed in a hostile national and international environment. FCF will continue to pursue the goal of the non-violent opposition.

We agree with President Obama on one general observation from his December 17 statement, that one cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Unfortunately the efforts of the Clinton Administration to engage the Castro dictatorship as well as loosen sanctions before and after 1996 went unmentioned in President Obama’s comments. President Clinton began joint military exercises with the Castro regime in 1994 in pursuit of normalized relations. The shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996 by Castro regime MiGs which killed Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa (age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24), and Pablo Morales (age 29) led to the passage and signing of The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act by Congress as an alternative to military action in an election year. 

Murdered by Castro regime on February  24, 1996
 The purpose of the attack however was not to sabotage U.S.-Cuba relations, but to cover up a massive crackdown underway in Cuba at the time to crush a national gathering called Concilio Cubano and thereby crush the aspirations of Cuban democrats in the island to peacefully gather and discuss the future of their country Despite this act of state terrorism against Americans, President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and loosened sanctions that opened cash and carry exports from American corporations and the Castro regime later that same year. This change in policy turned the United States into one of the top five trading partners of the Castro regime.

Economic sanctions were never designed to overthrow the dictatorship but were part of a policy of containment to prevent the spread of its totalitarian model. The rise of Hugo Chavez and the spread of Cuban influence in Venezuela began during Bill Clinton’s presidency and are now harming the entire region undermining the democratic gains of the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite this disaster the Obama Administration began in 2009 to loosen sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship. The Castro regime’s response was to take Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen hostage. The Obama administration remained very low key about Gross’s arrest, and it was 25 days before U.S. diplomats even saw this jailed American. FCF believes that this lack of concern sent a message to the dictatorship that they could continue to arbitrarily detain Gross and use him as a bargaining chip in their goals to secure the release of five Cuban spies captured in 1998. These five had not only engaged in spying on US military facilities but planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and were criminally involved in the February 24, 1996 shoot down.

As was the case in 1996 this policy of appeasement had dire consequences for the democratic opposition in Cuba which suffered several setbacks over the next four years. Prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike under suspicious circumstances in 2010; Ladies in White founder Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died from a suspicious illness in 2011; and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero died in the summer of 2012, under circumstances that point to a state security killing. Rising violence against opposition activists, including machete attacks, is a new and disturbing phenomenon.

FCF is concerned that releasing the three remaining spies, including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue in exchange for Gross and an unknown Cuban intelligence operative, may lead to the Castro regime murdering more innocents inside and outside of Cuba. We also know as does the regime that due to short term economic interests that economic engagement with the dictatorship will not be seriously impacted by whatever new atrocities are committed. Additionally, the hostage demand having been met by the United States government also sets a dangerous precedent for Americans traveling abroad. Add to this the normalization of diplomatic relations and the further loosening of sanctions and the signal sent to the hardline elements within the regime is clear: operating with criminal impunity delivers results. This was the same message sent by President Clinton in 2000.

FCF and its members are disturbed by the President’s statement on December 19, 2014 that the 1996 shoot down was not a premeditated move by Castro but a “tragic circumstance." This statement was deficient on two basic points. First of all, two planes were shot down over international airspace not one as he stated in the press conference. More importantly, the president’s statement ignored both documented evidence as well as court decisions and investigations by international human rights bodies that have concluded that the attack was indeed a premeditated extrajudicial execution as demonstrated by the points below:

1) Radio communications between the MiG29 and the military base clearly show that the fighter planes were sent out before the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft arrived at the 24th parallel level, that they were searching for a specific target, and that they even decided not to attempt any warning maneuvers to make the shoot down easier for the Cuban MiG pilots. 
2) The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ conclusion stated the following:
“From the circumstances surrounding the events of 24 February 1996, from the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of lethal force applied to the civilian aircraft, from the intensity of that force, and from the way in which the authorities at the Havana military control tower congratulated the MiG-29 pilots after they had carried out their orders, the Commission finds sufficient evidence that Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre were arbitrarily or extrajudicially executed at the hands of agents of the Cuban State. Consequently, the Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life, as enshrined in Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.”
3) U.S. courts have also found the Castro regime guilty of premeditation in this shoot down:
A.) U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft if these had been needed.
B.) A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard found Miami-based Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue.
C.) On August 21, 2003 a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot down.
4) A Cuban pilot saw Cuban MiGs rehearsing the shoot down six days before.
 General Ruben Martinez Puente, Francisco Perez-Perez, Lorenzo Alberto Perez Perez who were indicted on four counts of murder, two counts of destruction of aircraft and one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals in August of 2003 and Juan Pablo Roque indicted in May 1999 as a foreign agent (although he played a role in the shootdown) have yet to be pursued to the full extent of the law.

Silent vigil for Brothers to the Rescue shoot down victims
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 18 years and next year on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 3:21pm we will gather with the families of the four martyrs.

Mohandas Gandhi once observed that "Impure means lead to impure ends" and unfortunately the world may now see this theorem put into practice once again in the relations between Cuba and the United States. The day after President Obama made his statement reports emerged that Cuba’s Coast Guard had rammed and sunk a boat carrying 32 Cuban refugees. This atrocity was disturbingly reminiscent of a similar incident when, on July 13, 1994, under Bill Clinton’s watch, Cuban agents murdered 37 Cuban men, women and children attempting to escape in a tugboat.

We the present and former members of the Free Cuba Foundation say to the United States government and the Castro regime that the fruits that have emerged thus far from these negotiations point to the impure means upon which they were founded and will only lead to more grief. Therefore, with great respect we say, not in our name!

Signed by:

Brian Alonso
Grace Cuelez Droblas
Oscar Grau 
Yosvani Oliva Iglesias 
Robert Linares
Neri Ann Martinez 
Augusto Monge
Susana Navajas
Mirka Pena
Cindy Rodriguez
Raisa Romaelle
Pedro M. Ross
Juan Carlos Sanchez
Harold Alexander Silva
John Suarez
César Vásquez

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Three generations of the Free Cuba Foundation gathered today at Jose Marti Park for Freedom Protest

Robert Linares (FCF 2000) protesting Obama actions on Cuba
 Free Cuba Foundation is a student movement that was founded in August of 1993 and has been around for twenty years with five generations of activists passing through every four years or so. Today at a rally in Miami at Jose Marti Park activists from 1993, 1997 and 2013 gathered together to protest the decision of the Obama Administration to free three spies, including Gerardo Hernandez, found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in the untimely deaths of Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales. Every year since that crime was committed we have gathered on February 24 at 3:21pm to 3:27pm the time the two planes were shot down over international airspace in a silent demand for justice. Sadly, this year will also had to add the names of Venezuelan students murdered by Maduro's agents under the tutelage of Castro's state security agents.

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Brian Alonso (FCF 2013) was interviewed by  Local and spoke out against the new policy. Also in attendance was founding member and president of the organization Augusto Monge (FCF 1993) and Robert Linares (FCF 1997) who was photographed on the cover of a BBC report announcing today's protest. Below are excerpts taken from the protest of the different persons who addressed the crowd.

This movement has always been focused on the defense of human rights and advocating and setting the example taking nonviolent action in the face of injustice.

We have also continued to demand justice for the victims of the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo"tugboat massacre in which 37 men, women and children were killed, by holding a silent vigil every year on that day. Today we were horrified to learn that yesterday news arrived that the Castro regime's coast guard may have sunk a boat carrying 32 Cubans. We are trying to ascertain additional information at this hour. 

Robert Linares (on the left) holding torch in 1997