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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

25th Silent Vigil for Justice at FIU for Brothers to the Rescue shoot down victims

In memory of our advisor Martin L. Tracey PhD who passed away on February 23, 2021.


Members of the Free Cuba Foundation since 1996 have carried out or participated in a silent vigil for justice at Florida International University (FIU) every year for the past 25 years.  Today we once again took part in a silent vigil at the school. The vigil began at 3:21pm, the time the first plane was shot down, and concluding  the vigil at the end of 3:27pm, the time the second plane was destroyed.

Why do we do this? Because this was an act of state terrorism carried out by the Castro dictatorship on the orders of Fidel and Raul Castro through the entire chain of command down to the pilots who executed the illegal order. We are demanding justice and the full truth of what happened,  and with this annual action preserving the memory of the men killed, and the need for justice.

Silent vigil at FIU on February 24, 2021

Mario de la Peña, age 24; Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, both 30, and Armando Alejandre Jr., 45 were all blown out of international airspace on February 24, 1996. They were members of the humanitarian organization Brothers to the Rescue.

They were killed while engaged in a search and rescue for Cuban rafters in the Florida Straits. They were hunted down and intercepted by a Cuban MiG-29UB Fulcrum and a MiG-23ML Fishbed over the Florida Straits.

These jets — a two-man MiG-29 UB and a MiG-23 ML —were armed with heat-seeking air-to-air missiles and machine guns.  

The MiG-29UB, piloted by Lorenzo Alberto Peréz Peréz, shot down N2456S and N5485S, carrying Mario, Carlos, Pablo, and Armando while N2506 escaped.  They were killed on Fidel and Raul Castro's orders, and with the assistance of Cuban spies in Miami providing flight times and other pertinent information to Havana.

Aboard N2506 were Sylvia Iriondo, Andrés Iriondo,  Jose Basulto, and Arnaldo Iglesias. They lived to set the record straight on what happened.

The belief is that the three planes set out a little later than expected based on the data provided by the spies, and the MiGs hunting for them ran low on fuel after destroying the two civilian planes with air-to-air missiles. The time it took to get assets back in the air to hunt for the third plane gave them crucial time to escape. 

Family members plant the tree on March 6, 1997

After the vigil at the main fountain we walked over to the law school where a tree was planted in their honor on March 6, 1997.

The same tree on February 24, 2021

Normally we would encourage students and members of the community to join us in this gathering around the main fountain at FIU, with family members and friends of Mario, Carlos, Pablo, and Armando, but due to COVID-19 we recommended people of good will carry out a virtual vigil

This would involve taking a picture, describing what happened, and sharing a link to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on the shoot down.

Please join us in this action and let others know about this crime.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Fact Sheet on Orlando Zapata Tamayo

"Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we are subjected to that are victims of the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners [movement]" - Orlando Zapata Tamayo, letter smuggled out April of 2004*

                                  Cuban Prisoner of Conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo
                                 Tortured and Murdered by Cuban Government Officials

Fact #1 Orlando Zapata Tamayo was murdered by Cuban government officials

Both Abel Lopez Perez and Reina Luisa Tamayo charge that Cuban prison officials denied Orlando Zapata Tamayo water in an effort to break his spirit. Reina Luisa Tamayo in an interview with Yoani Sanchez, hours after her son’s death denounced that officials had denied him water.[1] Abel Lopez corroborates the charge stating: “Before Zapata was checked into the hospital, he was regularly taking some vitamins. He was in a weak state of health. A military chief known as ‘Gordo’, who was the one responsible for ordering all of Zapata’s things to be taken out of the cell and to stop giving him water, also took his bottle of vitamins and poured all the pills down a drain. He told him, ‘Those who are in protest here don’t drink vitamins. I think those are pills sent to you by the Yankees so you can continue your hunger strike.’ Those were the exact words said to him, I verified them. His vitamins were taken away, as were any other medications. And they stopped giving him water for a while.”[2] This type of practice was also documented in the 1966 death of another Cuban hunger striker, Roberto López Chávez.[3], [4] Denying water to a man on water only hunger strike is cruel and inhuman treatment that contributed to his death.

Fact #2 Orlando Zapata Tamayo was an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was recognized as an Amnesty International (AI) prisoner of conscience on January 29, 2004 a designation given only to nonviolent activists after careful examination.[5] On January 29, 2004 Amnesty International outlined Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s past arrests:

“He has been arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002. In November 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other government opponents were reportedly arrested and later released. He was also arrested on 6 December 2002 along with Oscar Elías Biscet[6], but was released on 8 March 2003. Most recently, he was arrested on the morning of 20 March 2003 whilst taking part in a hunger strike at the Fundación Jesús Yánez Pelletier, Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of Oscar Biscet and other political prisoners.”[7]

Orlando Zapata Tamayo appeared photographed in the Cuban government’s own publication Los Disidentes, in photos prior to his 2003 arrest and was then recognized by Cuban officials as a dissident. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo carried a photo the day after the Cuban regime announced the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo with prominent Cuban dissidents.[8]

Fact #3 Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s hunger strike was an act of non-violent self-defense

Orlando Zapata Tamayo had been beaten and tortured on more than one occasion by prison guards and state security along with other prisoners. His body was scarred and his health in decline. For example Amnesty International reported that, on "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."[9] Cuban political prisoner Abel Lopez Perez transferred to the same prison in Camaguey as Orlando Zapata Tamayo on December 3, 2009 briefly saw him and heard from other prisoners “that a few days before being taken away, Zapata stood up and shouted, ‘People, don’t let yourselves be lied to. Don’t believe anything that they tell you. I’m not demanding a kitchen or any of the things they took away from me. I’m demanding an improvement of treatment for all prisoners, and so you all know, I am going to die for it.’”[10] The case of Ariel Sigler Amaya, another Cuban prisoner of conscience, is instructive. He had to threaten a hunger strike, although already emaciated and crippled, to obtain medical treatment to save his life.[11] The hunger strike was not an act of suicide but rather a tactic of self defense within the arsenal of nonviolent options.

Fact #4 Between 1966 and 2010 at least six Cuban political prisoners died while on hunger strike: Roberto López Chávez , Carmelo Cuadra Hernández , Pedro Luis Boitel, Olegario Charlot Pileta, Enrique García Cuevas and Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Roberto López Chávez, 25 years old, died on December 11, 1966 in Isla de Pinos prison on hunger strike without medical assistance.[12] Armando Valladares, in his prison memoir, Against All Hope described the circumstances surrounding his death: “When Roberto López Chávez, went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses in the prison, the guards withheld water from him until he became delirious, twisting on the floor and begging for something to drink. The guards then urinated in his mouth. He died the next day.”[13], [14]

Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, died in La Cabaña prison in April of 1969 on hunger strike, after suffering mistreatment and torture over eight and a half months, without receiving medical care and was the third political prisoner that has died on a hunger strike.[15], [16]

Pedro Luis Boitel died on hunger strike on May 25, 1972.[17],[18]

Olegario Charlot Pileta, died in the famous "Escaleras" (staircase) of the Boniato prison, in of January 1973 during a hunger strike, without medical assistance and is described in documents as a “black youth.” [19],[20]

Enrique García Cuevas died on a hunger strike, without receiving medical care, in cell No. 4 of the new Provincial Jail of Santa Clara, on June 24, 1973.[21]

Two of the four outlined above died on hunger strikes after Pedro Luis Boitel and there are partial estimates that place the number identified to have died while on hunger strike at twelve including both Boitel and Zapata. Since the death of Pedro Luis Boitel there are partial lists identifying six political prisoners dead on hunger strikes between May 25, 1972 and February 23, 2010.[22]


1. Sanchez, Yoani “Orlando Zapata Tamayo's Mother Speaks After Her Son's Death” The Huffington Post February 24, 2010

2. Felipe Rojas, Luis “Abel Remembers the Last Days of Zapata in a Prison of Camaguey” Crossing the Barbed Wire November 24, 2010

3. Valladares, Armando Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares (1st edition Knopf April 12, 1986) quote taken from (1st Edition Encounter Books April 1, 2001) pg. 379

4. Glazov, Jamie United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror WND Books, 2009 Pg 48

5. Amnesty International “CUBA Newly declared prisoners of conscience” January 29, 2004

6. Quintero, Tania “CUBA | Llorando a un amigo ¡Así te voy a recordar, Orlando!” El Mundo February 24, 2010

7. Amnesty International “CUBA Newly declared prisoners of conscience” January 29, 2004

8. Felipe Rojas, Luis “Abel Remembers the Last Days of Zapata in a Prison of Camaguey” Crossing the Barbed Wire November 24, 2010

9. Rodriguez, Eliott “Paralyzed Former Cuban Prisoner Arrives In Miami” CBS4 July 28, 2010

10. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “Annual Report 1975: 1805 Cuba”

11. Valladares, Armando Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares (1st edition Knopf April 12, 1986) quote taken from (1st Edition Encounter Books April 1, 2001) pg. 379

12. Glazov, Jamie United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror WND Books, 2009 Pg 48

13. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights SITUATION OF POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CUBA (1976)


15. Amnesty International “CUBA Newly declared prisoners of conscience” January 29, 2004

16. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “Annual Report 1975: 1805 Cuba

17. Tamayo, Juan O. “Jailed Cuban activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo dies on hunger strike” The Miami Herald February 23, 2010


19. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights CHAPTER I SITUATION OF POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CUBA (1976)

20. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “Annual Report 1975: 1805 Cuba”

21. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights CHAPTER I SITUATION OF POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CUBA (1976)

22. Corzo, Pedro “El calvario de las prisiones cubanas” El Nuevo Herald March 13, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2021

Virtual vigil for Brothers to the Rescue shoot down victims to demand justice and truth 25 years after their extrajudicial killings

Long live Armando, Carlos, Mario 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 24 years and this year on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 3:21pm we will gather with the families of the four martyrs to mark 25 years, but due to COVID-19 participation will be limited. Florida International University is limiting access to campus. To take part you must register with them in advance.

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

Considering these limitations due to the pandemic, and the importance of marking 25 years since this act of state terrorism committed by the Castro brothers that murdered three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident, all of Cuban descent, and still calls for justice. A virtual vigil is being called for on all social media platforms on February 24th from 3:21pm to 3:27pm. Please take a picture of yourself joining in the vigil, and post it with the hashtags #VirtualVigil, #TruthJusticeMemory #WeAreConnected #JusticeForArmandoCarlosMarioAndPablo and #PatriaYVida.

In the four days leading up to the activity we are asking people of good will to join us in sharing the official report, images, and video interviews about what happened, and raising awareness around the world with the facts in evidence

Please share the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights September 29, 1999 report Nº 86/99 CASE 11.589ARMANDO ALEJANDRE JR., CARLOS COSTA,MARIO DE LA PEÑA, AND PABLO MORALES vs CUBA. 

The report details how twenty five 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, and the aftermath.