Cuban terrorists killed four U.S. human-rights activists. Biden should bring them to justice | Miami Herald

Miami Herald, March 16, 2023

Cuban terrorists killed four U.S. human-rights activists. Biden should bring them to justice | Opinion

By Frank Calzon and John Suarez

March 16, 2023 1:18 PM

In 1996, hundreds of demonstrators gather outside the Brothers to the Rescue hangar at Opa-Locka Airport, protesting Cuba’s shootdown of two of the organzation’s planes. Miami Herald file

On a sunny afternoon 27 years ago — Feb 24, 1996 — four human-rights activists searching for rafters on the Florida Straits were murdered by Cuban warplanes. Madeleine Albright, then secretary of state, presented irrefutable evidence to the international community of Cuba’s responsibility for this terrorist act.

After the murders, the White House promised that justice would be done. The Miami Herald reported several indictments, but the trial was never held because of prosecutorial discretion.

Mario de la Peña, 24; Carlos Costa and Pablo Morales, both 30; and Armando Alejandro Jr., 45, were members of the humanitarian organization Brothers to the Rescue. Their two small Cessna aircraft were pulverized by Cuban missiles. Their bodies were never recovered. Fidel and Raúl Castro were responsible for the crime. Raúl was then minister of the armed forces and has acknowledged he gave the order. It was a premeditated act of state terrorism.

Fidel died in 2016, 10 years after relinquishing power to his brother. Raúl Castro had been acting president since 2006, formally becoming president on Feb. 24, 2008. He no longer is president, but a member of Cuba’s parliament. No international law provides sovereign immunity to parliamentarians.

The statute of limitations does not apply to terrorist acts, yet, today, some lawmakers in the U.S. Congress support Cuba’s demand that it be removed from the State Department’s terrorist list.

In 2000, Cuban spymaster Gerardo Hernandez was sentenced to a double life sentence for espionage and murder conspiracy, for the information he provided Havana that contributed to the shootdown. His sentence was commuted in December 2014, during President Obama’s thaw with Raúl Castro. Hernandez now is charged with overseeing surveillance activities over the entire Cuban populace and is rumored to be Miguel Diaz-Canel’s successor.

Federal prosecutors in 2003 indicted Gen. Ruben Martinez Puente, the head of Cuba’s Air Force, and Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez, the two pilots involved in the shootdown. But the three have not been brought to justice, even after 20 years. Puente died on July 24, 2021 at age 79.

“The Cuban government has not demonstrated that it will refrain from the use of excessive force against United States vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba,” the Biden administration states in its Feb. 17 “Notice on the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Cuba and of the Emergency Authority Relating to the Regulation of the Anchorage and Movement of Vessels.”

Raúl Castro should follow his subordinates who executed his directive and were charged with this crime. He should be indicted. Failure to hold them accountable encourages Cuba to commit other egregious acts of state terror.

Frank Calzon is former executive director of Center for a Free Cuba. John Suarez is executive director of Center for a Free Cuba.