Miami’s Cuban-American community held a commemoration event Wednesday to honor the lives of Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, four Americans killed by the Communist Party of Cuba while flying over international waters in 1996.
The four men were members of a group known as Brothers to the Rescue that organized humanitarian missions over the Caribbean, seeking to find wayward Cuban refugees adrift at sea attempting to reach Florida. The Cuban military shot their planes down without any provocation and has never justified the murders, killing all four. Only one person — Gerardo Hernandez, a spy convicted of sharing pivotal information with the Castro regime that allowed it to target the victims — ever went to prison for the crime. President Barack Obama freed Hernandez and returned him to Cuba in exchange for hostage Alan Gross; prior to his release, the Obama administration arranged to ship Hernandez’s sperm to Cuba to allow him to become a father.
The 25th anniversary of the killings following repeated calls from Cuban-American leaders for the administration of President Joe Biden to continue the pressure on the Castro regime currently in place as a result of policies taken on by his predecessor Donald Trump. Trump’s administration restored Cuba to the State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism — in part in recognition of acts like the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes — and cut critical revenue to the regime from the easing of travel restrictions and remittance limits set under Obama. Biden has yet to take any significant steps to alter the current U.S. policy towards Cuba.
The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a coalition of exile community groups, in tandem with local officials, organized a memorial Wednesday for the four men and urged the current administration to seek justice for their families.
Acto de recordacion y reclamo de justicia en el 25to aniversario del asesinato de los cuatro Hermanos al Rescate en…
“We cannot forget the tragedy of the murder of these young men that happened in international waters, without provocation, on a humanitarian mission,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said at the event, addressing those assembled in Spanish. “The Castro regime was obviously trying to stop the world from understanding that communism was pushing people to the sea, to risk their lives.”
Suarez said his government, alongside exile community leaders, are “asking the federal government to analyze its politics towards Cuba, to understand the repercussions of their actions. We’re not turning back. We have to keep the pressure on the Castro regime which has its people enslaved.”
Organizers also read a letter at the event signed by multiple Cuban-American members of Congress — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Reps. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), and Carlos Giménez (R-FL) — decrying the killing of the four Americans as “a cowardly and barbaric act of terrorism.”
“The Castro regime should face consequences for its criminal acts. Especially the murderer Raúl Castro, who ordered this atrocity, as well as the three individuals already identified in a U.S. federal court: Gen. Rubén Martínez Puente and combat pilots Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Perez,” the lawmakers asserted.
Raúl Castro remains the dictator and most powerful person in Cuba, as head of the Cuban Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. A third title, “president,” exists constitutionally, but Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is subordinate to Castro.
In honor of the anniversary, the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance also published advertisements in Washington, DC, publications featuring letter from the coalition to the Biden administration urging Biden not to return to Obama-era policies, which did not give Cuban-Americans and victims of communism in the United States a say.
“On February 24, 1996, Castro MIG fighters ambushed and slaughtered three American citizens and one U.S. permanent resident in international air space. The four young men were volunteer pilots and spotters trying to save the lives of desperate refugees at sea who were trying to escape from communism in Cuba,” the letter read. “To this date, Raúl Castro and the other perpetrators in this brutal act remain unpunished.”
“The above-mentioned massacre of February 24, 1996, is only one of the many terrorist acts committed by the totalitarian regime in Cuba. The regime has institutionalized terror in both its domestic and international practices,” it continued. “Internationally, the regime continues a close alliance with states and non-states actors that sponsor terrorism, such as Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, Iran as well as FARC, ELN, Hezbollah and Mexican cartels.”
Biden was vice president when the Obama administration freed Hernandez, the communist spy — one of the more harrowing incidents in eight years of policies that undermined the cause of freedom on the island. The Castro regime regularly parades Hernandez as a hero and has elevated him to a senior position in the Communist Party.
“The only person that we had responsible for what happened, to be let go, it’s a slap in the face to my dad,” Marelene Alejandre Triana, daughter of Brothers to the Rescue pilot Armando Alejandre, said in 2014, when Obama freed Hernandez.
Many of the Cuban-American leaders convening to honor the victims of the Brothers to the Rescue massacre Wednesday urged Biden in a press conference in January to increase sanctions on key players in the Castro regime in response to escalating violence against peaceful protesters. The organizers especially urged sanctions on Cuban Culture Minister Alpidio Alonso, caught on camera that week personally beating a journalist in broad daylight. Biden has yet to publicly respond to the appeal.