Jose Basulto, President of Brothers to the Rescue
before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
September 18, 1996
Brothers to the Rescue, Inc. is a not-for profit, humanitarian organization, founded in 1991 in response to the number of deaths of Cuban rafters trying to flee the island in search of freedom. It is a volunteer pilots group from 17 different nationalities, funded by voluntary private contributions. To date, Brothers to the Rescue has conducted 1,840 search and rescue missions over the Straits of Florida, resulting in over 4,000 lives saved before the refugee crisis of 1994.
On February 24th of this year, two U.S., unarmed, civilian Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) aircraft, Conducting a humanitarian search and rescue mission over international waters, were shot down by Cuban MiGs. This terrorist-like attack resulted in the death of three U.S. citizens and a legal U.S. resident. A third BTTR aircraft which I was piloting, managed to escape although it was pursued by an additional pair of MiGs to within three minutes of the United States. Recent findings clearly show that this assassination and the threat posed by the MiGs to U.S. security interests could easily have been prevented by the United States.
Our testimony today before this Congressional Committee, is based upon sources which include:
1) Sworn U.S. court testimony by U.S. officials.
2) Access to the audio recordings of the conversations between the MiGs pilots and their Cuban controllers.
3) The report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
4) Expert witnesses that have confirmed that U.S. government authorities at a Minimum, willfully chose not to act to protect the lives and planes on that fateful mission.
We are convinced that if you review all of the foregoing evidence, you will come to the same conclusions:
1) U.S. government authorities were aware of the especially dangerous conditions which threatened our humanitarian mission on February 24 and that MiGs were in the air that morning. Contrary to previous instances, this information was not shared with BTTR. (ICAO report pages 50 & 51).
2) U.S. government authorities prepared an unusually elaborate plan to follow, monitor and document BTTR's February 24 flight, which included, to our knowledge:
a) Alerting several radar facilities from the U.S. Air Force and Customs.
b) Listening to and recording the communications of all the aircraft involved.
c) FAA Control Tower's report of the departure of our flight as well as radar tracking. Yet, the usual "ramp check" inspection performed by FAA prior to the departure of BTTR flights was strangely omitted that day.
3) U.S. government authorities proceeded passively then, to watch and listen, in silence, for fifty-three minutes, while Cuban MiGs hunted two BTTR planes, killed their four occupants, and chased the third plane to within three minutes of the United States.
4) The U.S. Air Force ignored the equivalent of a 911 call made to them by Major Jeffrey Houlihan, from March Air Force Base, in an attempt to save the lives of the BTTR pilots. The U.S. Air Force abandoned its standard operating procedure, to dispatch interceptors, upon the MiGs crossing the twelve mile territorial limit of the island of Cuba. Major Houlihan gave sworn testimony as to the existence of this standard operating procedure and. trigger line.
5) U.S. authorities (Air Force, Customs and FAA) also abandoned their practice of communicating with BTTR planes in the air via radio, or with BTTR operations base in Opa Locka airport, to issue a warning as it had done on multiple occasions in the past. (Pilots testimony is available). On every occasion, when warned of MiGs in the air, BTTR has immediately returned to base.
6) After the incident, U.S. government authorities fabricated a favorable scenario that would cover up their inaction and share of responsibility. Among the several actions taken, we experienced:
a) An attempt by a Customs official to seize by force and deception a tape recording of the radio communications between BTTR and Havana Tower during the mission.
b) Disavow any knowledge of MiGs in pursuit of the third BTTR aircraft north of the 24th parallel. (The MiG pilots communications to their ground controllers indicate otherwise).
c) The State Department refused to appear for deposition although properly subpoenaed by the Administrative Law Judge of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
d) Resist the judge's petition to produce in court the recordings of the radio communications of the MiG pilots and their controllers, already heard by ICAO investigators, and partially released to the United Nations. When finally obtained, these recordings provided BTTR with evidence that the MiGs pursued the last remaining BTTR aircraft above the 24th parallel and to within three minutes of the U.S.
e) When we were finally allowed to hear the tapes, we were given access to only two of the four tracks of the tapes. The other two, probably pertinent land-line communications, have not yet been released despite repeated requests by BTTR attorneys.
f) By allowing the MiGs to come within such close proximity to the U.S., American. security interests were put at risk.
Brigadier General Howard G. DeWolf, Director of Inter-American Region, USAF, stated in his letter to Congressman Dan Burton that the Department of Defense does not regularly monitor the flights of civilian aircraft. Yet, on the 24th of February, the State Department specifically requested four U.S. radar tracking stations from Customs and the USAF to monitor the actions of BTTR.
BTTR believes that Juan Pablo Roque, a Cuban intelligence agent doubling as an FBI informant and occasional BTTR pilot, was instrumental in the perception created in Cuba and the U.S. that our organization was planning a pro-democracy demonstration for that February 24th. The result was a premeditated ambush to kill from Cuba, and a complete U.S. intelligence operative which watched and documented the events as they unfolded, but made no attempt to prevent the loss of life. BTTR therefore, not only accuses and condemns Fidel Castro and the Cuban air force of murdering U.S. citizens, but also critically questions the rationale, purpose, and intentions behind the U.S. government's conduct and inaction on February 24th.
Today we are providing this Committee with the necessary evidence and testimonies to support our findings, and respectfully request that a full investigation be carried out and that the responsible parties be held accountable.
We also want to thank the Committee for granting Brothers to the Rescue the opportunity to avail itself of this important mechanism of our free and democratic society which we trust will address the concerns we bring before you.