14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 February 2017 – Members of the Cuban exile remembered the anniversary of the death of four Cuban Americans after the shooting down of two planes of the humanitarian NGO Brothers to the Rescue by the Cuban Air Force in 1996.
The commemorative activities began with an act of homage to Manuel de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales, at the monument in Opa-locka that reminds them of the 21st anniversary of the tragedy.
“Every year when we remember them, we feel immense pain,” says Ana Ciereszko, sister of Armando Alejandre, one of those murdered.
“When President Obama returned the spy responsible for the murder of our relatives it was very hard because they gave their lives to save the lives of others, Cuban rafters, many of whom have disappeared at sea,” she added.
Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also recalled those killed and lashed out at the Obama administration for the release of spy Gerardo Hernandez, convicted of providing information to the Cuban government that allowed the perpetration of the crime.
“Our nation must defend these murdered Americans and ensure that justice prevails so that the families of these victims can have the final peace they so deeply deserve,” said the congresswoman.
A third plane was able to escape and asked for help from the US authorities, who never delivered it
Brothers to the Rescue emerged as an initiative of civilian aviators of various nationalities and Cubans interested in assisting the rafters who escaped from the island in fragile vessels during the migratory crisis in the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union caused the greatest economic crisis in the country’s history and thousands of migrants threw themselves into the sea in the hope of reaching the United States.
The two Cessna 337 Skymaster aircraft, from Miami, were shot down with air-to-air missiles by a MiG-29UB 900 fighter and a MiG-23 fighter. A third plane escaped and called for help from the US authorities, who never gave it to them.
The Cuban government accused the organization of having “terrorist purposes” and defended the demolition of light aircraft on the grounds that they were over Cuban waters. Brothers to the Rescue, however, says that the shooting down took place in international waters.
“There has been no justice because there was no clarification of the truth. The facts were carefully hidden under the presidencies of Clinton and Castro,” says Jose Basulto, 76, president of Brothers to the Rescue and one of the survivors of the tragedy.
“It was a joint action, complicit, because they wanted to resume relations between both countries,” he says. He adds that on the Island there practice runs for shooting down the planes and that it was suggested to American officials what was going to happen. “We were exposed to the enemy fire and nobody helped us,” he adds.
According to Basulto, the days before each commemoration of the demolition are filled with memories and are “very sad.”
The gathering has become a tradition to remember the four Cuban-American youth
“Brothers to the Rescue was an example of human solidarity with the people of Cuba and to teach the world the harshness of the suffering of the people, capable of committing suicide at sea in order to escape from that dictatorship,” he recalls.
At Florida International University (FIU) a commemorative event was held with relatives of the victims and a broad representation of the exile. The meeting has become a tradition to remember the four Cuban-American youth and, as every year, silence was held between 3:21 pm and 3:28 pm, the time at which the planes were shot down.
“My brother was my first baby. He was just a boy when he was killed,” says Mirtha Costa, sister of Carlos Alberto Costa.
“He loved being together with everyone in the family. He was also a very cheerful person and always looked for how to make jokes to others,” he recalls.
Both Costa and the other relatives are responsible for the CAMP Foundation, named after the initials of each of the victims of the shooting down.
The foundation supports diverse organizations that promote youth education, such as Miami Dade College and the University of Miami.
The families of the victims will honor their memory with a Eucharist at St. Agatha Church at 7:00 pm this Friday.