Brothers leader attacks U.S. actions
``So far, not a single culprit has been identified and we have not seen any results of the investigation conducted by the United States government,'' the organization's president, Jose Basulto, said Monday in Miami.
The U.S. Department of Justice is handling the investigation. ``It is our policy to not comment on the investigation,'' Joe Krosvisky, a spokesman for the department, said Monday night.
Brothers to the Rescue is a group of volunteer pilots who patrol the Florida Straits in search of rafters.
According to a two-year investigation by Brothers to the Rescue, Basulto said, the attack by two MiG jet fighters against two of his Cessna 337 Skymasters ``was a premeditated crime by the Castro regime, with the knowledge of U.S. authorities.''
``Normal procedures were not followed on Feb. 24, 1996, when the MiGs crossed their 12-mile boundary into international waters,'' Basulto said.
``Under normal conditions, U.S. Air Force interceptors would have been scrambled, but that day the order to take off never came, and our brothers were executed in midair,'' he said.
The Defense Department disagrees with that assertion. An investigation in 1996 revealed that the MiGs did not enter U.S. airspace and therefore no scrambling was necessary, according to a statement made Jan. 17, 1997, by the Inspector General's Office of the Defense Department.
Earlier, in October 1996, Pentagon spokesman Joe March told a House international relations subcommittee that U.S. fighters at Homestead Air Reserve Base were on the runway with engines running but didn't take off because the MiGs turned back.
The alert originally came from a U.S. Customs radar specialist who was monitoring the MiGs' and the Cessnas' flight from a base in Riverside, Calif.
And a report released in June 1996 by the United Nations' Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization said the MiGs never entered U.S. airspace and, in fact, downed the Brothers planes over international waters.
On Dec. 17, 1997, a Miami federal judge awarded the families of three of the victims $187.6 million for their loss. However, only $148 million in frozen Cuban assets are kept at the Treasury Department in Washington.
Lorenzo de Toro Jr., the Brothers volunteer in charge of the group's Internet page, said a description of the investigation is on the Worldwide Web for all to see. The address is: http://www.hermanos.org
``On this page, people can read the results of the investigation, receive general information about Brothers to the Rescue and send us electronic mail,'' de Toro said.
On Monday, Brothers gave a copy of its report to U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Miami Republicans, asking them to pressure other members of Congress to reopen the investigation of the shoot-down.
At 11 a.m. today, Basulto will speak on Radio Marti to inaugurate the commemoration. At 12:30 p.m., four Brothers planes will take off from Miami Executive Terminal, 15001 NW 42nd Ave., at Opa-locka Airport, to fly the same route flown by the four ill-fated pilots.
``We expect to be at the same spot where the [Cessnas] were shot down at 3:21 p.m., the time when the incident occurred,'' said Guillermo Lares, chief of pilots for Brothers to the Rescue.
``Once there, we'll maintain one minute of silence, pray and drop white roses into the sea,'' he said.
Back in Miami, at 11:30 a.m., Women Fighting for Democracy will hold a memorial for the dead pilots and all others who have died during the 39-year rule of Fidel Castro.
The memorial will take place at Woodlawn Park Cemetery, on Southwest Eighth Street between 32nd and 33rd avenues.
``This remembrance ceremony is a commitment to the cause of freedom for Cuba,'' said Maria Marquez, the group's president.
At 6 p.m. today, a memorial Mass requested by Brothers to the Rescue will be said at the Ermita de la Caridad, 3601 S. Miami Ave. At 8 p.m., a Mass requested by the families of the four slain pilots will be said at St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, 7310 SW 62nd St.
Herald staff writers Allison Klein and Renato Perez and Herald wire services contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald