A provocation aimed at wrecking improved ties with Cuba. That is how advocates of normalized relations with Cuba described the incursion into Cuba's airspace last Saturday of three airplanes leased by an anti-communist outfit in Miami.
Cuban jets shot down two of the planes and the four crewmen are missing. U.S. intelligence officials admit that "at least one of the American aircraft, and perhaps all three, had violated Cuban airspace." The officials also acknowledged that "the air traffic control tower in Havana had warned the pilots they were in danger," the New York Times reported.
The third plane, piloted by Jose Basulto, head of Brothers to the Rescue, returned to Miami. Basulto is a veteran of the CIA Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.
President Clinton said, "I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms." He later announced measures to tighten the 32 -year embargo of Cuba.
Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said tightening the blockade is "absolutely absurd. The administration has been talking about the need to expand contacts, reach out to the Cuban people ... Closing our Interest Section, cutting off communications, that goes against what we want to do."
Smith told the New York Times that the U.S. government has not taken "appropriate action to prevent" provocations against Cuba. "I'm sure the Brothers tried to provoke some kind of incident to impede any further improvements in U.S.- Cuban relations."
The Antonio Maceo Brigade and the Alliance of Workers of the Cuban Community in Miami in a joint statement declared, "We urge President Clinton not to approve inhumane measures which ultimately will harm the welfare of the Cuban community in the United States and the Cuban people in the island and further erode constitutional rights such as the right to travel and free association."
Gus Hall, national chair of the Communist Party USA, said, "This was a violation of Cuban territory and they have the right to defend themselves. The answer to these provocations is to end the 32-year blockade of Cuba and establish full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba."
Five members of Pastors for Peace who are conducting a fast on the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego expressed grief for the loss of life. "We think Brothers to the Rescue should reflect on their methods which continue a long tradition of invasion and violence launched on Cuba from Florida," the statement said. "And we ask all people to understand that the Cuban people have been suffering loss of life for 35 years due to the U.S. embargo."
The four have been on a liquid-only fast for more than a week to protest the seizure by U.S. Customs of 400 medical computers that were bound for Cuba as part of the sixth U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment caravan. Demonstrations demanding release of the computers and an end to the embargo are scheduled in over 30 cities for March 6. Reps. Ron Dellums, Charles Rangel and Lynn Woolsey are circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter on the issue of the seizure.
Cuba Update, a New York-based peace group, released a statement charging that the U.S. "has taken almost no action against Cuban exile terrorists who operate freely from U.S. territory ... Starting with the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961, Florida-based terrorist organizations have repeatedly invaded Cuban territory -- air space, waters, and land."
The release cites the case of Cuban exile Orlando Bosch, a CIA agent who planted a bomb aboard a Cubana Airlines plane on Oct. 6, 1976. As the plane took off from Barbados, the bomb exploded, killing all 73 people aboard. Despite a Justice Department ruling that Bosch be deported for 30 acts of terrorism, he remains free in Miami.
Basulto is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration for violating Cuban airspace twice -- last July 13 and again on Jan. 13 -- and dropping hundreds of thousands of leaflets over Havana calling for an insurrection against Cuba's socialist government. Cuba's Defense Ministry issued a clear warning then that future hostile planes that intrude into Cuba's airspace faced the risk of being shot down.
Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba's parliament, speaking at a Havana news conference, said Cuban authorities have recovered physical evidence that the planes came down on Cuban territory. "The United States has received a long list of violations of Cuban territory over the last two or three years," Alarcon said. He charged that Brothers to the Rescue is not a humanitarian group. "We are facing a clear case of provocation."
Juan Pablo Roque, a pilot who flew for Brothers to the Rescue, appeared on Havana television for two hours Monday night. He accused Basulto and his cohorts of being "longtime CIA agents who engaged in terrorist actions in Cuba and Central America," including attempts to assassinate President Castro. Roque had defected to Miami from the Cuban Air Force two years ago. He disappeared from Miami Saturday and resurfaced in Havana.
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