CubaBrief: 25 years ago a Mig-29 shot down two civilian planes killing four. 3 days ago a Mig-29 forced down a commercial plane to kidnap 2 dissidents – Why you should worry.

Twenty five years ago a Cuban MiG-29 fired on two civilian planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue in international airspace in an unprovoked attack that killed Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales were on a humanitarian mission searching for Cuban rafters in the Florida Straits. It was learned later that Cuban spies had infiltrated the organization and provided information to Havana in a murder conspiracy  that led to the shoot down on February 24, 1996.  The actions of the Cuban government were condemned as unlawful at the UN Security Council on July  26, 1996.

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Nearly three months after this tragic anniversary, events involving Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, its security services and a MiG-29 diverted a commercial airline to kidnap a dissident journalist and his girlfriend. “Belarusian authorities scrambled a [Mig-29] fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday and then detained [Roman Protasevich] an opposition-minded journalist, and [ his girlfriend Sofia Sapega ] who [were] on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States,” reported Reuters. According to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement released on May 23, 2021, ” initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation.”

CNN on May 25, 2021 reported on the gravity of what happened and also quoted the CEO of Ryanair:

The 26-year-old dissident was traveling on Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania on Sunday when shortly before touchdown the plane was diverted by Belarusian air traffic control to the capital Minsk over a supposed security alert.

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary accused Belarus of “state-sponsored piracy,” telling Ireland’s Newstalk radio Monday that he believed Belarusian KGB agents were also on the flight that was carrying 26-year-old Protasevich, who is wanted in Belarus on a variety of charges.

This action should not be viewed in isolation but placed in context. On May 14, 2021 on the official Cuban television program Hacemos Cuba (We Make Cuba) hosted by Humberto López announced that they would prosecute and jail any Cuban national living abroad who engages in what the regime calls “subversive actions,” No matter U.S. residency or citizenship status, if and when people born in Cuba return to the island to visit, they can be arrested and tried if the person has participated in what the regime calls “subversive actions,” said top regime prosecutor,José Luis Reyes Blanco on the Cuban TV program. Subversive actions can be defined as ranging from taking part in a peaceful street protest, or supporting it on social media, or writing something critical about the dictatorship on a blog.

Prosecutor José Luis Reyes Blanco and Hacemos Cuba TV host Humberto López

Prosecutor José Luis Reyes Blanco and Hacemos Cuba TV host Humberto López

Havana has repeatedly backed the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, at international forums, and at the very least will not condemn this interference in the commercial airline of a EU member state. Human Rights experts have observed and reported that these regimes collaborate and explore “worse”practices in what amounts in practice to a dictator’s playbook.

These actions taken by the Lukashenko regime, if successful, will serve as inspiration for the Castro regime, and as the world witnessed on February 24, 1996, the Cuban dictatorship is capable of state terrorism, by comparison state-sponsored piracy will be small fare for Havana. In the 1970s terrorists would frequently hijack planes to Cuba, and be received with open arms by the Castro dictatorship.

Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega have both appeared in “confession videos.” They appear to have made their “confessions” under duress, and reports have emerged alleging torture.

Cubans and Cuban Americans living abroad should be concerned with what is being done to Roman and Sofia. Could those days return with Cubans and Cuban Americans taken off planes diverted to Cuba to be subjected to the Castro regime’s justice system? The answer to this question may depend on how the international community responds to this outrage committed by the Lukashenko regime.

Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega in separate confession videos

Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega in separate confession videos

Reuters, May 24, 2021

Europe

Belarus forces airliner to land and arrests opponent, sparking U.S. and European outrage

By Andrius SytasAndrey Ostroukh

Source: Headline waves

Source: Headline waves

Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday and then detained an opposition-minded journalist who was on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States.

In what was described by some EU leaders as a hijacking, the passenger plane flying from Athens to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, escorted there by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet. On its landing, authorities took journalist Roman Protasevich into custody.

Protasevich had his head in his hands and was shaking when he realised the flight was headed for Minsk, Lithuania’s Delfi news outlet said, quoting a passenger. Later, as he was led away, according to the report, he remarked: “I’ll get the death penalty here.” Reuters could not verify the report.

The 26-year-old journalist worked for Poland-based online news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year via the Telegram messenger app at a time when it was hard for foreign media to do so.

Protasevich who now works for a different Telegram channel called Belamova, is wanted in Belarus on extremism charges and stands accused of organising mass riots and of inciting social hatred, allegations he denies.

Data from the flightradar24.com website showed the plane was diverted just two minutes before it was due to cross into Lithuanian airspace. After seven hours on the ground, the plane took off and finally landed in Vilnius where Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte was waiting to meet the passengers.

As European officials threatened new sanctions on Belarus, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the forced landing and arrest a “shocking act,” demanded Protasevich’s immediate release and said President Joe Biden’s administration was “coordinating with our partners on next steps.”

EU member state Lithuania, where Protasevich is based, urged the European Union and NATO to respond.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive European Commission, said Protasevich must be released immediately and that those responsible for “the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned,” adding EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Monday would discuss what action to take.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet that the incident was serious and dangerous and required an international investigation.

Simon Coveney, foreign minister of Ireland, where Ryanair (RYA.I) is based, said on Twitter: “EU inaction or indecision will be taken as weakness by Belarus.”

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said he discussed the Ryanair plane diversion with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker, urging a strong response from the West.

The United States along with the EU, Britain and Canada have already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, following an August election that opponents and the West say was a sham.

‘ACT OF PIRACY’

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez issued a statement with the heads of seven European parliamentary foreign affairs panels denouncing the forced landing as “an act of piracy.” They called for a ban on all overflights of Belarus, including to and from the country, and for NATO and EU states to impose sanctions and suspend Belarus’ “ability to use Interpol.”

Blinken demanded a “full investigation” of an action he said endangered the lives of the passengers, including U.S. citizens.

“Given indications the forced landing was based on false pretenses, we support the earliest possible meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review these events,” he said in a statement.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/belarus-forces-vilnius-bound-ryanair-plane-land-detain-blogger-2021-05-23/

The Miami Herald, May 19, 2021

Cuba threatens to prosecute exiles in absentia for anti-regime activities abroad

Fabiola Santiago, The Miami Herald – May 19

[Excerpt]

In a desperate bid to quash unprecedented opposition at home — and the visible mounting support abroad for dissidents — the Cuban regime has threatened to prosecute and jail any Cuban national living abroad who stands with them.

No matter U.S. residency or citizenship status, if and when people born in Cuba return to the island to visit, they will be arrested and tried if the person has participated in what the regime calls “subversive actions,” a top prosecutor for the regime said on Cuban television.

This can be anything from merely supporting a street protest on social media to physically attending an anti-regime rally on Calle Ocho.

[Full article here]

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/cuba-threatens-to-prosecute-exiles-in-absentia-for-anti-regime-activities-abroad/ar-BB1gTTdt?ocid=Peregrine


NBC 6 South Florida, February, 24, 2021

4 Men Killed in Brothers to the Rescue Shoot Down Honored on 25th Anniversary

2 small planes carrying 4 men shot down by Cuban government on Feb. 24, 1996

Published February 24, 2021 • Updated on February 24, 2021 at 7:03 pm

The 25th anniversary of the shoot down of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft was observed Wednesday with a tribute in South Florida to the four men who were killed.

The four men – Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales – were on a humanitarian mission over international waters on Feb. 24, 1996 when their two Cessna planes were shot down upon an order from the Cuban government.

Their planes were taken down by a Cuban MiG-29 in international airspace, though Cuba claimed they were violating Cuban airspace.

Memorials for the four men were being held at Opa-locka Airport and at the Cuban Memorial in Tamiami Park Wednesday.

The group’s leader, Jose Basulto, is 80 years old. He has a bum hip and he’s in a wheelchair but he went to lay flowers at Opa-locka Airport and to speak about the tragedy.

“It’s a quarter of a century, Armando, Carlos, Mario and Pablo were murdered by the air force of Cuba,” said Basulto.

Basulto and other members of the group and friends of the four victims gathered at the memorial site at the airport, where the Brothers to the Rescue planes were all based out of.

Reps. Carlos Gimenez, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Maria Elvira Salazar, along with Senator Marco Rubio, released a joint statement Wednesday regarding the 25th anniversary of the incident.

“Our prayers are with the families and friends of these four martyrs who were taken from them by this cowardly and barbaric act of terrorism,” the statement read. “The Castro regime must be held accountable for its crimes – specifically, Raúl Castro, who ordered this attack.”

https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/4-men-killed-in-brothers-to-the-rescue-shoot-down-honored-on-25th-anniversary/2390766/