On February 24, 2016 friends and families observed in silent protest the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down twenty years earlier on a Saturday afternoon when Cuban MiGs launched missiles destroying two civilian airplanes without warning over international airspace, the first at 3:21pm and the second at 3:27pm killing four men.
Twenty years later looking back at the circumstances that led to the shoot down one is drawn to another crime that occurred less than two years earlier on July 13, 1994 when the Castro regime oversaw the massacre of 37 men, women and children when their agents surrounded and sank the "13 de Marzo" tugboat as entire families risked all to live in freedom. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas reflected on the significance of this crime years later:
Behind the Christ of Havana, about seven miles from the coast, "volunteers" of the Communist regime committed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of our city and of Cuba. In the morning, a group of seventy people in all, fled on a tugboat, led by the ship's own crew; none was kidnapped, or there against their will. They came out of the mouth of the Bay of Havana. They were pursued by other similar ships. When the runaway ship and its occupants stopped to surrender, the ships that had been chasing them started ramming to sink it. Meanwhile, on the deck, women with children in their arms begging for mercy, but the answer of their captors was to project high pressure water cannons against them. Some saw their children fall overboard under the murderous jets of water amid shrieks of horror. They behaved brutally until their perverse mission was fulfilled: Sink the fleeing ship and annihilate many of its occupants.How are the events surrounding the massacre of February 24, 1996 joined together with the events surrounding the massacre of July 13, 1994? They are joined together by a third date: July 13, 1995. On July 13, 1995 a flotilla of boats sought to enter Cuban national waters in a nonviolent incursion to travel to the spot where the "13 de Marzo" tugboat had been sunk and where the remains of the victims remain to the present day. The objective was to hold a religious service in memory of the 37 who lost their lives seeking liberty.
Both the July 13, 1994 sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the shoot down where coldly calculated premeditated acts ordered by the Castro brothers and carried out by its intelligence and military apparatus.On July 13, 1995, two BTTR aircraft over flew Havana. The Cuban government charged that Basulto publicly, openly and patently endeavored to provoke air incidents and violate Cuban territorial sovereignty. On that flight, Hank Tester, a news reporter from Miami, flew aboard Basulto's plane filming as "fighters were in the area." Basulto claimed his intrusion was an act of civil disobedience. (App. Exh.60) The purpose of the July 13 over-flight was to create a diversion for Cuban fighters that were at the time threatening a freedom flotilla off the territorial waters of Cuba. The flotilla in turn was lawfully commemorating the sinking of the tugboat "13 de Marzo" and the tragic loss of forty lives caused by Cuban gunboats ramming the defenseless vessel. (App. Exh.8 and 60) On July 14, 1995, the day after the over flight, the Cuban government first declared its intention to shoot down even peaceful intruders. Cuba would not govern itself by international standards of engagement when dealing with non-military intrusions.
Castro spies that had been dispatched to South Florida and infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue in order to provide information such as flight times, and commit sabotage. This same spy network received warnings from their superiors in Havana to avoid flying during certain dates that included February 24, 1996 and if they had to fly what special maneuvers to make to avoid being shot down.
These crimes also occurred at a time when the United States was seeking to normalize relations with Cuba during the Clinton Administration and unfortunately the pattern has repeated itself on a different scale during the Obama administration and long time opposition leaders have met with death under suspicious circumstances that point to state security involvement.
Author, philosopher, humanist and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminded persons of conscience in his 1986 Nobel Lecture that: "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." In that spirit I ask you to join me on July 13th wherever you are at 12 noon in a 13 minute silent protest on behalf of the victims and martyrs of the Castro regime. Spread the word to others of good conscience and through letters to the editor, essays for publication and messages on social media take part in this exercise in memory and truth in the defense of justice and true reconciliation.