Even though the United States has failed to oust Fidel Castro from power after nearly four decades, most Cuban Americans support U.S. policy efforts against the dictator. But not 57-year-old Jose J. Basulto, president of Brothers to the Rescue, an organization that conducts humanitarian searches for refugee rafters in the Florida Straits.
His ministry has seen the inert side of U.S. policy firsthand. On February 24, 1996, Cuban jet fighters without warning shot down two unarmed Cessnas in the Florida Straits, killing four Brothers to the Rescue volunteers: Mario de la Pena, 24; Pablo Morales, 29; Carlos Costa, 29; and Armando Alejandre, Jr., 45. Basulto later found out that U.S. radar had been tracking the Cuban MiGs for nearly an hour, but federal officials did nothing to warn Brothers' pilots.
Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Rafael Cespedes told CT in Havana, "We had our reasons. They had violated our territory 25 times." But Basulto contends the planes were over international waters.
"They had been practicing to kill us," says Basulto, who flew a third plane and eluded fire before he returned safely to Miami.
Rather than apologize for failing to warn the pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked Basulto's pilot's license for violating Cuban airspace. He sued the FAA, spending $75,000 in legal bills in an effort to get the license back. A judge ordered the license to be reinstated after 150 days, but the FAA has continued to enforce the revocation in what Basulto believes are political motivations to keep him from provoking Cuba.
But Brothers to the Rescue flights continue at least weekly because Cubans are still fleeing on crudely constructed rafts. The pilots drop food, potable water, and medicine ...1