brothers to the rescue
Posted on April 14, 2013
Who hasn't heard of the EMBARGO? This issue is like the apple of
discord. Some cling to it to "suffocate" the Cuban government while
others plea, out of charity, for its elimination because of the
shortages suffered by Cubans. My question is: Has anyone asked what what
the Cuban opposition thinks about the United States embargo on Cuba?
Clearly, the EMBARGO has been a total failure, its main objective–to
"eliminate" the Cuban Communist dictatorship–has not been achieved and
in turn, it has served as an ally of the Castros to justify everything
that is wrong, the lack of productivity, the immobility, the
deterioration, and to maintain them in power. Is there no milk? That's
because of the blockade. Is there no rice? Blockade! Are Cubans unable
to access the Internet? The blockade and the blockade only. This embargo
or blockade, is just an excuse for the Castro brothers to not take
Fidel and Raul are not affected at all by this prohibitive law. They
have food, cars, petroleum, satellite dishes, internet, travel, they can
go to the best hotels in Cuba (I refer to them and their families). Who
is affected by the situation? We are, I am, the dissidence, the
opposition blogger, those who want freedom in Cuba, the working mother,
my neighbor on the corner.
The Cuban government has remained in power (and I have to recognize it)
because of the great support it has received from Cubans. What Cuban
will have time to think about DEMOCRACY when he spends 24 hours a day
"resolving" the meal of the day? A hungry man can not think about
freedom. Cubans have also lived more than half a century with continuous
daily brainwashing and psychologically this works. The embargo has only
benefited the government of Cuba to brutalize and close the minds of
ordinary citizens even more.
I'm not saying that the end of the EMBARGO would represent an economic
or political improvement for us, but this action would automatically put
the Cuban government on the defensive, because they would not have a
"threatening enemy" that doesn't allow them to "fulfill" their duties.
We need access to information, we need to stop people wandering around
town like zombies looking for eggs and get them to think a little about
We need a cultural flow with the American people to break those myths
that Cuban society still believes. If Havana were full of crazy
Americans, State Security, and their minion "Yohandry," would have less
time to suppress the Ladies in White. What will happen when my city is
full of gringos with dollars and no one wants to hear about convertible
The Cuban opposition is here, on the streets, living the daily miseries
and suffering as well. We have a great international support from
courageous Cubans who give us their highest loyalty from the outside,
but as the people here do not have access to the INTERNET (or to
information in general), all our work is completely invisible to the
eyes of the vast majority of people, and this my dear readers, is quite
beneficial for the Cuban government.
Why when Clinton was about to negotiate an end to the embargo Cuba did
Castro shoot down the planes of the Brothers to the Rescue? Spy planes
fly over Cuba all the time! Why did it have to be at that moment?
Because they had no interest in the end of the EMBARGO, it benefits them.
I think everyone who supports such a law is indirectly supporting the
Castro brothers, hardening the dictatorship, the prohibitions. They will
be in power as long as Cubans on the island allow it, because for Cubans
on the island the outside world is mysterious, alien, strange, unreal.
After all this time the EMBARGO shows its uselessness and today, far
from encouraging citizens to react, it is making the work of the
opposition in Cuba impossible. Having millions of people totally blind
is counterproductive to any attempt to achieve freedom. I invite the
congressional Republicans in the United States to get in contact with
Cuban dissidents who know the reality and our concerns, because Cuba is
not the same as it was in 1960.
Anyone who wants freedom for Cuba and supports this EMBARGO, is sinking
and disarming those of us here fighting to face off against the
(To be continued ..)
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Complicity in Murder: Shades of Cuba in Benghazi
By Janet Levy
Almost seven months have passed since the attack on the Benghazi
consulate building and nearby CIA annex by al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar
al-Sharia, in which four Americans were murdered, including U.S.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Despite demands for further information
into why the Obama administration and the military failed to act to
defend and protect the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya even as they had
intelligence of increasing Islamic violence, no answers have been given.
Many Americans rightfully wonder whether or not the truth will ever
come out about the murders at the American diplomatic mission in Libya.
The American public, in fact, has been shamefully left before without
answers in the face of obvious government failures, as illustrated by
the shoot-down 17 years ago by Cuban military jet fighters of two
civilian planes and the deaths of four Cuban-Americans rescue pilots.
Like the Benghazi attacks, no answers were ever given about the murder
of four members of the activist group Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR), and
the lack of action by U.S. military and government authorities to defend
and protect them.
According to an in-depth interview with Jose Basulto, BTTR founder, and
the examination of official documents and other sources, here is what
occurred in that earlier example, on Feb. 24, 1996, of governmental
failure. It serves as a reminder that until we demand a full accounting
and require action on the part of our government and military, Americans
will be left unprotected and vulnerable, even in mortal danger, by
government authorities who fail in their duties to protect and defend
while, in effect, even engaging in deathly complicity with our own
Brothers to the Rescue
In 1991, after learning of the death of a 15-year-old Cuban rafter who
died following his rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard, Cuban-American Jose
Basulto decided that it was time to act. That same year, Basulto, well
aware of the desperate situation faced by citizens of Castro's
repressive regime and their dangerous journey to freedom on flimsy rafts
through the Florida Straits, founded Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR). The
group, a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission, would directly save
over 4,000 lives.
Basulto's efforts to free his beloved Cuba date back to his return to
the island from college in Boston to join pro-democracy groups opposed
to Castro. Later, as a Cuban exile, he was part of the failed Bay of
Pigs 1961 invasion of Cuba. Decades later, with the founding of BTTR,
Basulto saw another avenue to help his beloved, besieged country of origin.
BTTR volunteer pilots, from 19 different nationalities, patrolled from
the skies for desperate Cubans seeking to escape the brutal Communist
government and risking their lives in makeshift rafts and boats without
adequate food and water, exposed to the elements. Later, BTTR dropped
leaflets over Cuba, sending messages of hope and information about
peaceful resistance. Their activities embarrassed the Cuban government,
puncturing the myth of a socialist paradise. Castro clearly worried
about their potential to cause internal problems and, on occasion,
threatened to shoot down BTTR planes.
Not surprisingly then, BTTR was infiltrated by a former fighter pilot
and member of the La Red Avispa ("Wasp Network") Cuban spy network, Juan
Pablo Roque, who staged his defection from Cuba in 1992. That year,
Roque swam to the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) and sought
asylum. Earlier, fellow La Red Avispa member and BTTR infiltrator Rene
Gonzalez had "defected" in Florida by "stealing" a plane from a Havana
airfield. At some point after his arrival, Roque became a paid FBI
informant, although the Bureau was apparently aware of his membership in
the subversive Cuban group, and his actions were suspect, viewed as an
attempt to infiltrate the agency.
U.S. Political Situation
Around the same time as BTTR was active, President Clinton was
"normalizing" the U.S. relationship with China -- which included
providing 11 million pages of classified data for the Chinese to
modernize their missile and nuclear technology -- and also trying to
engage Castro. The president met in Martha's Vineyard with author and
Castro emissary Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who relayed that the Cuban
dictator wanted an end to negative publicity from the balsero crisis --
the torrent of Cubans desperately taking to the high seas in barely
seaworthy crafts to seek freedom in America. BTTR, which had a
reputation of goodwill among Cubans, was viewed as a serious threat to
Cuban government stability. Besides rescue operations, BTTR was
introducing principles of strategic nonviolent action and attempting to
unite Cuban citizens with Cuban exiles to overthrow the repressive
regime and usher in a return to democracy.
Events Leading to Shoot-Down
In 1995, then-Clinton confidant and U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson
(D-NM), a frequent envoy for Clinton's various foreign policy missions,
was asked by Castro to visit Cuba. Richardson, following a briefing by
Richard Nuccio, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and
Clinton's adviser on Cuba, traveled there in January 1996. Richardson
met Castro and other Cuban officials and, allegedly, negotiated the
release of American political prisoners in exchange for a U.S. promise
to end BTTR missions to Cuba.
A CNN report published shortly after the incident stated that Castro
issued the order to take action against Brothers to the Rescue after two
anti-Castro leaflets drops over Cuba the month before. Castro admitted,
"We gave the order to the head of the air force. They shot the planes
down. They are professionals. They did what they believe is the right
thing. These are all people we trust, but I take responsibility for
what happened." Cuban MiGs began test firing air-to-air missiles and
practicing attack maneuvers against slow-moving aircraft similar to the
Cessnas flown by BTTR. Although U.S. government officials obtained
radar evidence of these practice runs, BTTR was not informed.
In early February 1996, U.S. Navy Admiral (ret.) John Shanahan -- who
would later advocate reduced U.S. defense spending, including the demise
of the F-22 program -- hosted a delegation of diplomats and retired
Pentagon officials to Cuba. The U.S. contingent was directly and
shockingly asked by Cuban intelligence and military heads how the United
States would respond if Cuba shot down BTTR planes. Upon their return
here, the delegation discussed this threat with officials from the U.S.
State department, the Center for Defense Information and Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA), but again neglected to inform BTTR.
Allegedly, no U.S. response to Castro was given, which could have led
him to conclude that no significant repercussions would be forthcoming.
The Day of the Shoot-Down
The BTTR flight of Feb. 24, 1996 began like most of their others, as a
planned search-and-rescue operation in international airspace following
all established protocols. On Feb. 23, the day before, double-agent
Roque suddenly and suspiciously returned to Cuba. Although the state
department was aware of his departure, it was never communicated to
BTTR. Also, that same evening, U.S. radar and monitors had been placed
on alert to follow the scheduled BTTR flights the next day. Local
military had also been alerted to coordinate flight plans and departure
times with the watch supervisor and to trace BTTR transponder codes for
as long as possible.
On Feb. 24, BTTR flight plans filed for a 10:15 a.m. takeoff were
transmitted to Miami and Cuba. Circumstances delayed the BTTR flight
until the late afternoon, yet a Cuban military commander reported that
Cuban MiGs were nonetheless sent out at BTTR's anticipated arrival time
to intercept three unidentified aircraft violating Cuban airspace. The
U.S. commander in charge ordered a military aircraft response in
accordance with standard operating procedures, and the MiGs returned to
Inexplicably, however, U.S. reports did not show any unidentified
aircraft or Cuban military aircraft activity during that time interval.
As he flew his Cessna on that day, Basulto reported detecting aircraft
north of the 24th parallel, the line which marks the U.S. airspace
boundary. He also crossed paths with a U.S. Navy Orion aircraft,
something he had never seen before during any of his missions. Per
protocols and well-established procedures followed over the previous
five years and 1,800 search-and-rescue missions, Basulto notified Havana
of a five-hour stay in the area once he arrived at his airspace destination.
Meanwhile, in California, senior detection systems specialist Jeffrey
Houlihan, with the U.S. Customs Service Domestic Air Interdiction
Coordination Center, saw something amiss as he read and interpreted
information from multiple antennae and Aerostat balloons. A seasoned
radar and air weapons control expert and former Air Force pilot,
Houlihan became alarmed as he observed Cuban interceptors operating
without transponders, flying at high speeds, and making rapid maneuvers
in and out of radar range. Much to his astonishment soon thereafter, he
detected Cuban MiGs far out in international airspace flying directly
above BTTR. Armed with the knowledge that an emergency response could
be forthcoming from Tyndall Air Force Base in South Florida, he made a
frantic call for help. Momentarily satisfied by the information that
the Air Force base had been briefed and was handling the situation,
Houlihan returned to his watch. As he continued to monitor the
situation, he was astonished to see that no American interceptor
aircraft showed up in the area to protect BTTR from attack, which would
have been in accordance with standard operating procedures.
Little did he realize at that time that he was to witness the senseless
murder of four dedicated BTTR pilots. Houlihan later recounted that the
Air Force Base had been on battle stations alert at the time of his
"911" call. The alert was inexplicably lifted at some point shortly
The shooting down of BTTR planes without warning began with Cuban MiGs
reporting visual contact and confirming planes registrations with
Havana. As documented as part of an investigation conducted by the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), no warning passes or
redirecting or escorting procedures, required by international law for
civilian aircraft, were attempted. According to Basulto's account,
later denied by U.S. authorities, after shooting down the two planes of
his fellow pilots, the Cuban MiGs chased Basulto for 53 minutes over the
24th parallel within three minutes of U.S. airspace. Upon Basulto's
safe landing back in Florida, U.S. Custom officials' top priority was to
obtain the video and audiotapes made by Basulto of his flight, which
they demanded immediately. Later investigations revealed that the
Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force and Navy were all
on alert and had monitored the events of that fateful day.
For his humanitarian efforts, Basulto incurred accusations by Castro of
"being involved in terrorist acts" and "subverting the internal order
of the island." In an interview with television journalist Dan Rather,
the Cuban dictator admitted to planning and ordering the shoot-down and
misled the American public with false statements that BTTR had committed
"serious terrorist actions" and had been warned on several occasions
about flying in Cuban airspace. Basulto was punished by the U.S.
government, losing his pilot's license for six months. Plus, he was
censured, discredited, and misrepresented as an agitator.
Following the BTTR shoot-down, U.S. policy on balseros underwent a
dramatic change. In the year of the shoot-down, Clinton's Attorney
General Janet Reno warned that rafters discovered in the Florida Straits
by the U.S. Coast Guard would risk being stopped and prosecuted by the
U.S. government. A serious indictment of the Castro regime was that
refugees reported preferring their internment at GITMO to the oppressive
life in their native land.
By 1995, U.S. policy toward the balseros became more restrictive, and
the Clinton administration began sending them back to Cuba if they
failed to reach dry land. The U.S. resolved to curtail exile
demonstrations thought provocative to Castro and sought a reduction of
hostile rhetoric between the two countries.
In early 1998, the Pentagon released a report concluding that Cuba "does
not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries
in the region."
Yet, later that year, a mere two years after the shoot-down, The Cuban
Five, part of La Red Avispa, were arrested in Miami. Their arrests shed
light on their activities: the successful infiltration of the U.S.
Southern Command (SEADS) and Cuban-American groups. Their subversive
activities contributed to the BTTR shoot-down, and the five were viewed
as national heroes in Cuba.
It is also worth noting that on the day of the BTTR shoot-down,
convicted Cuban spy Ana Montes was the senior intelligence expert on the
Cuban military at the Pentagon. According to Scott Carmichael, a senior
security and counterintelligence investigator for the DIA, military
officials looked to Montes, as the designated Cuban expert, for answers
on the day of the shoot-down. Thus, she was in a prime position to
provide false information and pass military plans onto the Cuban
government (True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana
Montes, Cuba's Master Spy, Scott W. Carmichael, Naval Institute Press,
Annapolis, Maryland, 2007).
According to a December 24, 2000 article by Knight Ridder reporter Gail
Epstein Nieves, who reported on the spy trials of the five, "[t]he FBI
intercepted clandestine communications between Havana and its South
Florida intelligence agents that forecast a potentially violent
confrontation between Cuba and Brothers to the Rescue more than a week
before the planes were shot down[.]"
One of the intercepts instructed the two BTTR Cuba spies, Roque and
Gonzalez, to refrain from flying on particular days. Former Clinton
Cuba advisor Nuccio, although admitting to concerns about a shoot-down
by Cuba, said there was no "hard evidence" of an impending attack and
claimed ignorance on the intercepts. Yet Nuccio wrote an e-mail on the
day before the shoot-down to Clinton's national security adviser Sandy
Berger warning of a possible incident.
Today and Conclusions
The events that took place around the shoot-down of two BTTR rescue
planes on February 24, 1996 amounted to a cover-up of major proportions.
Despite significant prior information and forewarning, the Clinton
administration's failure to warn BTTR, a civilian search-and-rescue
operation and peaceful advocate of democratic change in Cuba, was an
unconscionable travesty resulting in the tragic loss of four lives.
Furthermore, the decision not to initiate a defensive military response
-- the ordering of a military stand-down -- smacks of complicity in this
This was indeed puzzling in light of previous U.S. government assistance
to BTTR. During the Bush Sr. administration, the Coast Guard provided
cover from above for a rescue mission in the water and, on another
occasion, called on defense forces to rescue BTTR from a potentially
Today, Obama has liberalized travel to Cuba and allowed religious,
university, and cultural groups to visit the island. He has lifted
restrictions on remittances to the island. In addition, he has failed
to challenge efforts by the successors and allies of Castro and Hugo
Chávez, enemies of the free world, to expand their sphere of influence
in Latin America.
Despite mainstream media portrayals that herald Cuba under Raul Castro
as leading to economic reform and political liberalization, Cuba ranks
next to last, just above North Korea, on the Heritage Foundation's
latest index of economic freedom. This is "exactly where Cuba's has
been since Raul's 'reforms' commenced," said Cuban-American author
Humberto Fontova, who agrees with the ranking.
"In fact, Cuba is currently undergoing a wave of terror, a 20-year high
in political beatings and arrests. This wave of terror and repression
coincides with record tourism to the island," Fontova says.
The lack of action and the outright dissembling of information so
prevalent in the BTTR shoot-down appear to have been at play in
Benghazi. Although officials at the Pentagon, U.S. State Department,
FBI, and other government agencies were almost immediately informed that
the jihadist group had perpetrated the attack, the Obama administration
initially credited it to a spontaneous eruption of anger against an
anti-Muslim film posted on the internet. This charade was maintained
for several weeks, with the U.S. government going so far as to place
$70,000 worth of apology ads on Pakistani TV and for then-Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton to extend duplicitous words of comfort to the
father of a fallen Navy SEAL with "We'll make sure that the person who
made that film is arrested and prosecuted."
Following the attack, it was revealed that the late Ambassador Stevens
repeatedly pleaded for extra security personnel, citing a "troubling
increase in violence and Islamist influence," but was denied additional
support by the state department. Tragically, American drones were
overhead at the time but did nothing to stop the attack, in deference to
the political expediency of Obama's pre-election portrayal of a
successful U.S.-led operation toppling the Libyan dictator and
furthering the "Arab Spring." Later revelations uncovered that Stevens
was aiding Syrian rebels, including al-Qaeda operatives, and supplying
them with weapons to fight Bashar al-Assad's regime as part of a
Curiously, FBI investigators arrived at the attack site almost a month
later and spent only three hours collecting evidence. At this point, 33
survivors have not yet been heard from, and some speculate that they
have been silenced by threats.
The Benghazi attacks may well come to parallel the BTTR shoot-down.
More than 17 years after that incident, the use of misinformation, the
unavailability of potential witnesses, and the omission of vital
evidence to perpetuate a cover-up of massive wrongdoing still haunt the
survivors of this tragic event.
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