Information Recovery from the Dictatorship’s Memory Hole
"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." -- Inner Party member O'Brien in George Orwell’s 1984
Fourteen years ago over the Florida Straits a brutal crime was committed by Cuban government against civilians aboard three planes who were hunted by Cuban MiGs and in the case of two of the planes were blown to bits by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 at 3:21 p.m. and 3:27 p.m., respectively, in international airspace destroying two civilian light aircraft extra-judicially killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa ( age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24), and Pablo Morales (age 29). Documents revealed in a 2009 CBS4 investigative report show that two other Cuban MIG's pursued Brothers to the Rescue founder Jose Basulto's small plane to within three minutes of Key West before breaking off pursuit.
Extra-judicially executed by agents of the Cuban government on February 24, 1996
Why the review of these facts? Every year the Free Cuba Foundation holds a moment of silence at Florida International University on February 24th between 3:21pm and 3:27pm at the main fountain on campus in remembrance of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo who gave their lives in service to others. This tradition has been maintained for 14 years. The first vigils were held the week following the shootdown in 1996, but over time memories have faded, but there is more to it.
2008 Vigil at FIU organized by the student organization Free Cuba Foundation
The Cuban regime has undertaken a systematic propaganda effort to demonize Brothers to the Rescue and take the incriminating facts against the dictatorship and throw it down a memory hole. The phrase “memory hole” first came into existence in George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four to describe a small chute leading to a large incinerator used for censorship. Today it describes a process in which inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records are altered or just outright disappear and new ones are created by the propaganda apparatus.
Therefore in the interests of preserving some of these inconvenient and embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, and other records this essay will present the historical context in which Brothers to the Rescue came into existence and the events that led to the shootdown and some of the new information discovered over the past 14 years.
First Brothers to the Rescue formed in 1991 on account of the rafter (balsero) crisis.
The Cuban government likes to throw around the term terrorist, but does not want to accept when it has committed acts of state terrorism. The rafter crisis like the Germans fleeing over the Berlin Wall was an embarrassment to the dictatorship and like the East Germans there response was brutal. On July 6, 1993 according to The Miami Herald the Clinton Administration denounced the practice of Cuban marine patrols, seeking to stop refugees from reaching the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base by tossing grenades and shooting at defenseless fleeing swimmers then recovering some of the bodies with gaff hooks reporting that:
A State Department aide called the use of gaffs, usually used to pull gamefish into boats, to pull bodies from the water "an act of extreme cruelty." According to the U.S. protest, U.S. military guards surveying the bay have witnessed five separate incidents:
* On June 19 at 2 p.m., U.S. guards, startled by the sounds of detonations, saw Cuban troops aboard patrol boats dropping grenades in the paths of several swimmers headed for the U.S. base.
* On June 20 at 1:30 p.m., Cuban troops repeated the action, then strafed the water with machine-gun fire.
* On June 26 at 11 a.m., three patrol boats surrounded a group of swimmers, lobbing grenades and spraying them with automatic weapons fire. At least three corpses were lifted out of the water with gaffs.
* On June 27 at 11:30 a.m., guards aboard patrol boats lobbed two grenades into the water.
* The same day, just before 3 p.m., a patrol boat opened automatic fire on a group of swimmers, who were later seen being pulled from the water. The swimmers' status was unknown.
This brutality against fleeing emigrants by the Castro regime would be exposed to the world on July 13, 1994 with the attack and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat an episode which cost the lives of the 37 men, women, and children whose names and ages are all accounted four. Some estimate that four more unidentified lost their lives bringing the total number to 41, but until the day that the remains are recovered. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights prepared an extensive report on the merits which begins:
In the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, four boats belonging to the Cuban State and equipped with water hoses attacked an old tugboat that was fleeing Cuba with 72 people on board. The incident occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast, opposite the port of Havana. The complaint also indicates that the Cuban State boats attacked the runaway tug with their prows with the intention of sinking it, while at the same time spraying everyone on the deck of the boat, including women and children, with pressurized water. The pleas of the women and children to stop the attack were in vain, and the old boat--named "13 de Marzo"--sank, with a toll of 41 deaths, including ten minors. This outrage reported around the world and filtered back into Cuba led to one of the largest uprisings against the dictatorship in Cuba on August 5, 1994 known as the Maleconazo. Extended footage below:
Time Magazine reported the dictator's reaction to the crisis which was to turn an internal crisis of control into an immigration crisis:
Angered by a massive anti-government demonstration on the Havana waterfront, Cuban President Fidel Castro warned that unless the U.S. stops offering asylum to fleeing Cubans, he will allow the free departure of those who want to leave the country. That could trigger a repeat of the 1980 Mariel exodus, which saw some 125,000 Cubans arrive in Florida within a few months, overwhelming U.S. officials. Said Castro: "We cannot continue to guard the coasts of the U.S."
Fidel Castro takes responsibility for the shoot down in an interview shortly afterward
Transcripts of both the pilots in the Cuban MiGs and the Brothers to the Rescue pilots communicating with Cuban air traffic control are available online along with compelling audio recordings. Jose Basulto, a survivor the attack, has a chronology of the circumstances surrounding the shootdown. Fidel Castro's claim that the shoot down of both planes was something "very fast" that took place in a matter of minutes does not hold up to further scrutiny and disclosed information. In addition to Juan Pablo Roque. On September 14, 1998 ten people were charged in the largest Cuban spy ring ever exposed in the United States. They called themselves "la red avispa" - "the wasp network" and among them was Rene Gonzalez, formerly affiliated with Brothers to the Rescue and at the time of his arrest a member of the Democracy Movement.
Five of the ten cut deals with the prosecution and pled out to reduced sentences in exchange for their cooperation they were: Alejandro Alonso (7 years), Linda Hernandez (7 years), Nilo Hernandez Mederos (7 years), Joseph Santos Cecilia (4 years ) and Amarylis Silverio Garcia de Santos (3 1/2 years). The remaining five would refuse to cooperate and went to trial. On June 9, 2001 they were found guilty of conspiring to spy on the United States and the leader of the group Gerardo Hernandez was found guilty of contributing to the deaths of the four members of Brothers to the Rescue and sentenced to life in prison . The FBI had intercepted coded communications between the spies and the Cuban government that indicated that the February 24, 1996 shootdown had been planned well ahead of time. The portion of the coded intercept that attracted the most attention with regards to Brothers to the Rescue was written by Eduardo Delgado Rodriguez, a.k.a."MX," a Cuban general who headed the Interior Ministry's Directorate of Intelligence (DI)
had urgent instructions for Miami-based agents who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue not to fly on Brothers planes between Feb. 24 and Feb. 27 as they carried out "Operation Scorpion":
"MX instructs that under no circumstances should German nor Castor fly with Brothers to the Rescue or another organization on days 24, 25, 26 and 27, coinciding with celebration of Concilio Cubano [a planned national conference of dissident groups in Havana], in order to avoid any incident of provocation that they may carry out and our response to it."
On February 27, 1996 three days after the shoot down then Congressman (now Senator ) Bob Menendez addressing the Congress outlined what had taken place the video is still available on C-Span:
It is now interesting to note that yesterday the Cuban Government openly bragged about a pilot who they sent to infiltrate Brothers to the Rescue and returned to Cuba the day before the incident. It is now apparent that that individual, Juan Pablo Roque, transmitted information to the Castro regime about the Brothers to the Rescue's flight plans for Saturday, and so we have here the facts developing of why I say that this act was premeditated murder and it is in fact an act of state terrorism.
You have an infiltrator pilot who tells the regime, Brothers to the Rescue are flying, they are flying one of their search-and-rescue missions, they will be in international airspace but near Cuban airspace, and therefore sets them up as clay pigeons. And you have a situation in which Castro's regime itself was thinking about the possibility of shooting down innocent civilians, asking a former retired general who was in Cuba about the United States reaction to such an event. Hence, the premeditation.
A couple of weeks after the shoot down on March 4, 1996 in a segment aired on PBS Jose Basulto representing Brothers to the Rescue maintained the organization's commitment to civic nonviolent resistance and Betty Ann Browser the journalist gave an analysis of the significance of Brothers to the Rescue nonviolent approach:
JOSE BASULTO, Brothers to the Rescue: We must not waver in our effort to bring assistance and support to those who struggle through non-violent means inside the island. It is there where our first priority lies.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Basulto supports a third approach to the Cuban question, based on the peaceful, non-violent principles of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. Basulto and other Cuban-American leaders believe that organizing flotillas, that by flying close to Cuban air space, and holding demonstrations in a non-violent manner will keep Cuban issues alive in the international arena. Over the weekend Basulto and the Brothers flew near Cuba to memorialize the four dead pilots. In the waters below, a flotilla braved eight-foot seas to remember the young Cuban-Americans. The television pictures were broadcast around the world...
Another fact that was not known in 1996 is that at some point during the Clinton Administration the United States and the Cuban dictatorship began holding joint military exercises. This went on during the George W. Bush years as well despite stronger rhetoric between both governments, and the Bush Administration forbade disclosure of the exercises for over a decade, and were only made public now during the Obama Administration.
US State Department official spied for Communist Cuba for 30 years
The 2009 CBS4 report raises troubling questions: US military jets had scrambled to intercept Cuban MIG's since at least 1992 and even had scrambled earlier the same day of the shoot down, no jets ever took off from Homestead Air Force base or any other base:
Despite the fact that military officials watched the shootdown on several different radar installations around the country, even as far away as California, and despite the fact two more MIG's chased Basulto's plane to within 3 minutes downtown Key West, the records show that no United States military jets ever scrambled to intercept the Cubans.According to the CBS4 report "orders came from unknown people in Washington. The F-15's were ordered to stay on the ground. And they were not allowed to intercept the Cuban MIG's." Probably by someone like a Walter Kendall Meyers at the US State Department shown in the video above or Ana Belen Montes at the Pentagon.
In September of 2001 top Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes was arrested for espionage. She had been spying for the Cuban dictatorship since 1985 and had prepared a military threat assessment of the Cuban regime in May of 1998 that said Cuba was no longer a threat. Montes first caught the attention of the counterintelligence service in her response to the shoot down. Scott W. Carmichael in his book True Believer described what happened. First her role in facilitating a meeting with U.S. government representatives with retired U.S. Navy admiral Eugene Carroll on February 23, 1996 to relay recent threats by the regime and that provided Admiral Carroll a lot of television interview time on February 25 to place the Cuban government in a more favorable light and blame Brothers to the Rescue. Carmichael describes how they thought this was an "influence operation" - a covert attempt to influence public opinion. This could also be a coincidence except for two other minor but important details.
Ana Belen Montes was the senior intelligence expert on the Cuban military in the United States when the shootdown occurred she was called into the Pentagon to provide intelligence support. She received a personal call at the Pentagon in the midst of a crisis situation and announced that she would have to leave at 8:00pm and she did. Two rules at the Pentagon in the midst of a crisis: no personal calls and during the crisis you are suppose to stay at your post until your superior deems that you are no longer needed. Both these flags led to the investigation that uncovered a high ranking Cuban mole in the heart of the Pentagon.
Brothers to the Rescue founder, Jose Basulto in a 1998 interview held "the U.S. government culpable by neglect" and the Cuban dictator responsible demanding his indictment for murder adding "Castro can kill me, I'm living on spare time. I have been dead since 1996. They were like my own sons."