Human rights advocates urged President Donald Trump this week to bring a case before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on behalf of the four Americans killed while rescuing Cuban refugees in 1996, shot down in what the U.S. Congress has deemed an act of terrorism.
On February 24, 1996, Fidel Castro ordered his military to shoot down American civilian planes piloted in international waters. Carlos Costa; Armando Alejandro Jr.; Mario de la Peña; and Pablo Morales – three U.S. citizens and one legal resident – were killed in the incident while flying over the Caribbean Sea looking for Cuban refugees in rafts, known as balseros, risking their lives to get to the United States.
Their planes were unarmed at the time of their killing, and there is no evidence the humanitarian group ever used weapons or engaged in aggression. Cuban officials at the time alleged that Brothers to the Rescue, a men’s human rights group, was engaged in bombing campaigns, a claim the U.S. Congress asserted had “no basis in fact.”
The Cuban government had deployed a Soviet-trained spy to infiltrate Brothers to the Rescue, which provided the intelligence necessary to locate and shoot down the planes.
JusticeCuba, a Cuban-American advocacy group seeking to document the crimes of the Castro regime and bring them before an international court, published a letter on the twenty-second anniversary of the killing this weekend recommending that President Donald Trump – who has honored the families of the Brothers to the Rescue heroes personally – present evidence against dictator Raúl Castro before the ICC.
“We respectfully request that you seek to uphold the findings and statements made by Congress as per Federal Law 104-114, SEC 116 … which states: ‘The Congress urges the President to seek, in the International Criminal Court of Justice, indictment for this act of terrorism by Fidel Castro,'” the letter reads.
The letter, signed by a variety of human rights advocates, signals the launch of “an international campaign to effectuate prosecution for the abominable massacre of February 24, 1996, which has been condemned by various international institutions,” JusticeCuba said in a release, according to Cuban-American outlet Martí Noticias.
On Monday, Cuban Americans and human rights advocates congregated at Florida International University to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre, praying for those killed and for justice:
Today from 3:21pm to 3:27pm at @FIU we stood together in silence to remember #BrothersToTheRescue martyrs: Carlos Costa, Mario de la Pena, Armando Alejandro Jr., & Pablo Morales murdered on 2/24/96 pic.twitter.com/fc5j8CSe8k
— John Suarez ن (@johnjsuarez) February 26, 2018
Family members, students and university community hold silent vigil at Florida International University for Brothers to the Rescue martyrs Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario Manuel de la Peña, and Pablo Morales. https://t.co/dERWAV3u0b #FIU #SilentVigil #Justice pic.twitter.com/J0Rht4WcUN
— Free Cuba Foundation (@freecubafndtn) February 27, 2018
The ICC has global jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the “crime of aggression” (“the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, integrity or independence of another State”). It is currently processing 24 cases, most involving genocide, use of child soldiers, and other atrocities in Africa.
The U.S. Congress statute JusticeCuba cites as a mandate for President Trump to bring the case to the ICC calls the attack both “terrorism” and “a blatant and barbaric violation of international law and tantamount to cold-blooded murder.” As the law was passed in 1996, three presidents have failed to take on its mandate: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
In addition to courting the ICC, JusticeCuba works to find as many international avenues as possible to prosecute human rights criminals in Cuba. It has advocated for Interpol to place individual Castro regime criminals on its “red alert” list and this month released a preliminary list of 42 high-ranking communist officials for whom there is evidence of having committed crimes against humanity.
Only one person has faced U.S. justice for the Brothers to the Rescue attack: Gerardo Hernández, the Cuban spy sent to infiltrate Brothers to the Rescue and make the murders possible. He was convicted in a U.S. court of conspiracy to commit murder but released by President Barack Obama in 2014, along with three other spies making up a group known as the “Cuban five,” tasked with infiltrating and destroying Cuban exile human rights groups. In addition to releasing Hernández – allowing him to receive a hero’s welcome for the murders in Havana – the Obama administration paid for Hernández to artificially inseminate his wife through the transport of frozen sperm from his prison to his wife in Cuba.
In June 2017, President Trump invited Mario and Miriam de la Peña and Mirta Méndez, relatives of the Brothers to the Rescue fallen, to attend his address to the Cuban exile community in Miami announcing the reversal of President Obama’s friendly policy to the Castro regime. Trump promised the group that the four men “did not die in vain.”