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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Obama Administration Looks to Erase Castro’s Worst Crimes

Past FCF president featured in Heritage Foundation's Daily Caller on Brothers to the Rescue shoot down 

The author at the Brothers to the Rescue event on February 24, 2016
Even before President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba next month, his administration has looked to rewrite the history of the Castros’ worst crimes. An example of this was in 2014, when the Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernández.

Hernández had been in jail for conspiracy to commit murder through his actions related to the 1996 downing of aircraft owned by the anti-Castro nonprofit “Brothers to the Rescue.”
Brothers to Rescue is a Miami based organization, formed by Cuban exiles, which advocates against the Castro dictatorship.

The atrocities took place in 1996, when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by Cuban jets over international airspace, killing four. Two more Cuban fighters chased a third Brothers to the Rescue plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West but failed to shoot it down. This plane returned and provided critical information on what had occurred. If it had been shot down, the Cuban government had a cover story in place to justify the shoot-down.

In order to carry out the attack, the Castro regime had a spy, who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, initially pose as a survivor in Cuba to confirm the regime’s story. But this story imploded when the third plane made it back to Florida.

The objective of the Castro Regime was to destroy relief organization while at the same time taking attention away from a crackdown on a national opposition gathering in Cuba.

This was happening in the midst of a warming relationship that started in 1994, between the Clinton administration and Castro that included secret joint military exercises.

Hernández was set free by the Obama administration and was returned to Cuba the same day his sentence was commuted. Two days later on Dec. 19, 2014, Obama sought to rewrite the history of the incident, stating in a press conference that “[i]t was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.”

Historical and legal records demonstrate that Obama is wrong.

The Cuban dictatorship planned the attack by using its spy networks in the U.S. to obtain information, which allowed the Castros to carry out this act of state terrorism while also carrying out an influence operation to blame the victims in the media coverage.

On Nov. 14, 1997, 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.

A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10, 2001, found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández 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.

On Aug. 21, 2003, a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot-down. Indictments were returned against General Rúben Martínez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez.

The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, and two counts of destruction of aircraft. They are still at large.

There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the White House to pursue justice in the premeditated murders of these four men, but the indictments remain open.

Family members of the four killed (Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre) have pursued and will continue to pursue justice and have concrete results for their efforts. Unfortunately, they face an Obama administration that is trying to downplay the actions of the hostile Cuban government.

John Suarez is a human rights activist with the Cuban Democratic Directorate. 

FCF Letter Mobilizing for Brothers to the Rescue Vigil Published in The Miami Herald

Over the past 20 years the Free Cuba Foundation has observed the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down with a silent vigil for justice. Let us continue this tradition in the defense of memory, truth and justice which is necessary for reconciliation.


Letter published February 22, 2016 8:55 PM

The Miami Herald

Brothers to the Rescue memorial

Twenty years ago this week, four Brothers to the Rescue fliers were shot down and killed on the orders of Fidel Castro while they flew two civilian planes through international airspace in a search and rescue mission for Cuban rafters.
Killed were Mario de la Peña, 24; Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, both 30, and Armando Alejandre Jr., 45, all of Miami-Dade.

What drove them to risk their lives on board small civilian planes flying through the Florida Straits? The knowledge that somewhere as many as 100,000 Cubans have died trying to flee Cuba.

The monied interests are pushing a message in the media that young Cuban-Americans don’t care about what has gone on in the past or that human rights continue to be systematically violated today while at the same time pushing a business agenda with the Castro regime.

If you want to counter this false narrative, then there’s something that you can do. On Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m., join us at the main fountain at FIU to join hands in a moment of silence for these four heroes that will begin at 3:21 p.m.

Rey Anthony (age 20)
Student Advocate,
Free Cuba Foundation

Brothers to the Rescue shoot down audio and transcript

"Something very tragic that we dreaded for a long time happened today, " Basulto said. "We lost our first pilots." - Jose Basulto, The Miami Herald, February 24, 1996

On February 24, 1996 between 3:00pm and 3:53pm three civilian planes from the United States flying in international airspace were hunted by two Cuban MiGs and two of the planes were blown to bits by air to air missiles killing four men at 3:21pm and 3:27pm while the third plane was pursued to within minutes of the Florida Keys but made it back. On the third plane were Sylvia Iriondo, Andrés Iriondo,  Jose Basulto, and Arnaldo Iglesias.

The audio below is in Spanish and is of the MiG pilots and tower hunting and killing Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales.  The transcript is of the conversation between the Brothers to the Rescue pilots and the Cuban air traffic controller
that was taking place at the same time. It also demonstrates that the MiG pilots gave no warning as they carried out their deadly attacks that day. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1999 published an extensive report on the shoot down that is available online. Today at 3:00pm at Florida International University there will be a moment of silence marking the times when both planes were shot down.

Excerpts of the Conversation Between Brothers to the Rescue Pilots and Cuban Air Traffic Controllers

Recorded on Saturday, 2/24/96 at approximately 3:00 p.m.

Pilot Jose Basulto: Good Afternoon, Havana Center. November 2506 greets you. Please, we are crossing parallel 24 in five minutes and we will remain in your area about three to four hours.
Havana Center: Received.
Basulto: For your information, Havana Center, our area of operations are north of Havana today. So we will be in your area and in contact with you. A cordial greeting from Brothers to the Rescue and its President Jose Basulto, who is speaking to you.
Havana Center: OK. Received, sir. I inform you that the zone north of Havana is active. You run danger by penetrating that side of north parallel 24.
Basulto: We are aware of the danger each time we cross the area south of 24 but we are willing to do it. It is our right as free Cubans.
Havana Center: Then, we copy information, sir.
Basulto: Thank you.
Arnaldo Iglesias, passenger on Basultos plane: Do you want to shoot a [video] closeup? Alright.
Pilot Carlos Costa: Mike (Mario de la Peqa) is staying around 82-30 (longitude).
Basulto: Take east, no, not east, but a little more, a little slanted.
Basulto: Havana Center. November two five zero six.
Basulto: Cordial greeting. We report 12 miles north of Havana continuing our course of search and rescue eastward at this moment. A beautiful day -- Havana looks great from where we are. A cordial greeting to you and to all the people of Cuba on behalf of Brothers to the Rescue.
Havana Center: Havana received.
(Several minutes pass, until some of the Brothers pilots sight Cuban Mig fighters.)
Iglesias: They are going to shoot!
Basulto: Theyre going to shoot at us!
Sylvia Iriondo, a Basulto passenger: Theyre going to shoot at us?
Basulto: They shot at us. Is that a flare?
Basulto: We have a MiG, we have MiGs around us.
Costa: Theres a MiG in the air. Bogie in the air. Where are you?
Basulto: I know. The bogie is north of us at this time, and they dropped a flare apparently to take reference from.
de la Peña: Seagull Charlie. Seagull Mike. (A call for response from Costa)
de la Peña: Charlie. Mike.
Basulto: Negative.
de la Peña: Whats your position? Seagull Mike is two three three zero, eight two two nine.
Iglesias: Were at two three two five, eight two two zero.
Iglesias: Seagull Charlie. Seagull Charlie.
Basulto: Seagull Charlie, are you with us?
Basulto: Seagull Mike, are you with us?
de la Peña: Yes sir.
(Both pilots continue attempts to contact Costa. There is no answer.)
Male voice: Oh, shit.
Male voice: Whos there?
Peña Seagull Mike. Seagull One.
de la Peña: Im here. Have you heard from Charlie?
Basulto: Negative.
Basulto: Do you see that smoke to my left?
de la Peña: I dont see anything now. I did see smoke.
Basulto: Do you see smoke below the MiG?
de la Peña: I didnt see the MiG. I saw smoke and a flare.
Basulto: I saw the MiG and I saw smoke. I dont know whether it was a flare.
Iglesias: Yes it was a flare.
Basulto: With a chute?
Iglesias: Yes.
Basulto: Seagull Charlie. Seagull One.
Basulto: OK, were looking at another flare...another ball of smoke.
Basulto: Charlie, is that you?
Basulto: Seagull Mike.
Basulto: Seagull Mike. Seagull One.
Iglesias: Call Charlie and see if he answers.
Basulto: Seagull Charlie. Seagull Charlie.
Basulto: Seagull Mike.
Iglesias: The other thing is to try to call the Coast Guard to go check the smoke and see what it is.
Male voice: Lets go to the boat over there.
(More attempts to get a response from de la Peña.)
Male voice: Well, it looks like we have to get the hell out of here.
Basulto: Mike. One.
Iglesias: You have everything turned off?
Basulto: (answering a query, probably from Miami center) No sir, Im proceeding on my own navigation to Opa-locka. I have no emergency aboard my aircraft. The emergency is with the two fallen aircraft. I am proceeding to Opa-locka.
Basulto: (answering another query) Roger, sir, Roger. We are inbound Opa-locka about 30 miles west of Key West at this time, and we are reporting a possible emergency with two aircraft. The emergency is two overdue aircraft that we think we have lost some 30 miles North of Havana. Thats Brothers to the Rescue. Two aircraft. Smoke was seen in the vicinity of the area where we were tracking north of us, and we also saw two MiGs in the air

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cuban prisoner of conscience tortured for years died six years ago today

"October 20, 2003 [Orlando Zapata] was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations." - Amnesty International, January 25, 2004

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, May 15, 1967 – February 23, 2010
On February 23, 2010 Cuban human rights defender and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo was extra-judicially executed by agents of the Cuban dictatorship after years of torture.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo had gathered signatures for the Varela Project and was a human rights defender. Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas had campaigned to save the life of Orlando Zapata making a plea over Spanish television for his life and months beforehand recording a plea from Orlando's mom for her son. 

Sadly, this was the start of a deadly trend that claimed the lives of several human rights defenders including Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas who was killed on July 22, 2012 along with youth leader Harold Cepero. Oswaldo had held up a photo of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and denounced the torture and murder of the Afro-Cuban human rights defender.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas holds up image of Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was unjustly imprisoned and tortured into an early grave by agents of the Castro regime, dying at the age of 42. What were you doing when Orlando was killed six years ago today in Cuba?

Please share your recollections in the comments section below.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Open Letter to Cuban American Student Leaders

Dear Fellow Cuban American student leader,

13 days to spread the word, organize, and take peaceful action. Less than two weeks to raise awareness and organize activities and take peaceful action in the service of truth, memory and reconciliation. 
Four men were killed when the two planes they were flying in were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21pm and 3:27pm on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro.  

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights September 29, 1999 in their Report on the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down held the Cuban government responsible for the murder of these four activists.
At Florida International University we will join hands for the 20th time at the main fountain on Modesto A. Maidique Campus as we have done for the past 19 years in a silent vigil spanning the time when two civilian planes were shot down over international airspace at 3:21pm and 3:27pm on February 24 ending the lives of Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24), Pablo Morales (age 29), Carlos Costa (age 29), and Armando Alejandre Jr.  (age 45) .

Please let us know if you plan to hold an event on your campus. We will be compiling a list of campuses that will be holding a six minute silent vigil on February 24 between 3:21pm to 3:27pm.

Invite your friends to examine the evidence, and to let others know what happened 20 years ago on February 24, 1996. 

The Free Cuba Foundation

At dramatic meetings of the UN Security Council, the US has shared one of its most prized possessions, secret intelligence. [...] In 1996, the US played recordings of radio conversations between the Cuban interceptor pilots and the ground 1996 as they shot down two Brothers to the Rescue in a premeditated attack. Such electronic eavesdropping is achieved through specialized and top secret satellite and airborne surveillance platforms.

Listen to the Cuban pilots as they hunted and shot down the civilian planes here:  (In Spanish)

Before all the details were revealed Fidel Castro took responsibility for the shoot down but later backed off with other Cuban officials saying it was a terrible accident. The facts state otherwise. Here is the video of the interview. (In Spanish)

Years later audio of Raul Castro that also implicated him in the chain of command that decided to shoot down both planes was made public. (In Spanish)

 For more information on the Shootdown:

Brothers to the Rescue official page

Shootdown Victims