JANUARY 15, 1996

A political deluge
Leaflets rain on Havana; exiles mum on, how

By JUAN 0 TAMAYO and JOHN LANTIGUA Herald Staff Writers

It rained in Havana Saturday - not just water, but anti-government propaganda.

The skies opened, down came a deluge, plus thousands of fliers printed in Spanish urging Cubans on the island to actively oppose the government of Fidel Castro.

Where did the unusual precipitation come from?

"Let's just say we take responsibility for those leaflets," Jose Basulto, president of the exile pilots organization Brothers to the Rescue, said Sunday. "But I cannot give you any of the technical details of how we did it."

Basulto is already facing a suspension of his pilot's license for flying over Havana July 13 without permission and dropping political material. Sunday, he would not say who flew the plane or planes, or if they belonged to his organization.

But he had copies of leaflets, said he knew 500,000 of them had been dropped at about 2 p.m. Saturday, that they had fallen in many parts of Havana, and that there had been no anti-aircraft fire.

Saturday was a dark, cloudy and windy day in Havana and it rained incessantly.

Two Havana residents contacted by phone said they had heard nothing-about th e leaflets. A third had seen them, although she initially spoke only with circumspection.

"Many things are flying about these days," she said. But she then admitted she had been brought six fliers by friends, and described them in detail.

Strong statements

They were printed mostly in red ink on white paper, and contained statements such as "Fight for Your Rights," "The People Own the Streets The Government Has the Fear," and "Your Neighbors Feel the Same Way You Do - Change Things Now."

Each one also had a line from the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights printed on the back.

If any acction is warrantied, it will, be taken.' KATHLEEN BERGEN FAA spokeswoman

The woman said the people who picked up the leaflets told her they heard the drone of an airplane motor just before the leaflets came out of the clouds but had not seen a plane.

In Atlanta, Federal Aviation Authority spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said Miami air traffic controllers had no prior knowledge of a flight outside of U.S. air space by Brothers to the Rescue. She said the Brothers pilots normally file flight plans, but did not file such plans this weekend. It is a violation of U.S. law to fly in the air space of a foreign nation without permission.

"If any action is warranted, it will be taken," she said.

Relatively quiet

The Brothers usually fly over the Florida Straits looking for rafters who need to be rescued.

But few balseros leave Cuba in the 'winter because seas are too high, so the Brothers have been relatively quiet since the fall.

On July 13, during an anti-Castro dempostration in Cuban territoial waters, Basulto and another pilot Billy Schuss, flew over Havana and dropped about 1,000 fliers. Since then, the FAA has filed charges against Basulto that would suspend his pilot's license for 120 days, That case is pending.

After that flight, the Cuban military moved anti-aircraft batteries into highly visible positions in, Havana, but they have since been moved. The military, which in the past had a reputation for maintaining extremely tight,- air and sea security, is no longer able to do so. Economic problems and resultant fuel shortages don't allow patrols boats or Cuban air force planes to operate as they have in the past.

Special day

Basulto said his group chose the 13th day of the month for their mission to commemorate the 41 people who died in 1994 aboard the Havana tugboat named 13th of March. The tug was trying to, flee Cuban waters when another craft carrying Cuban government employees collided with it. The tug sank.

Basulto said his organization also sought to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Day today, hoping to encourage Cubans to use civil disobedience against the Castro government, as King used it to fight racism and injustice.

Basulto discounted one account that the leaflets were dropped from a tall building in Havana.

"The Empire State Building hasn't been moved to Cuba, has it?" he quipped. "No, we didn't use any building."