U.S. authorities haven’t forgotten him, however, and some Cuban exiles demand that the Cuban government return him to Florida to face charges.
A federal indictment charged Roque with failing to register as a foreign agent and conspiring to defraud the United States in May 1999.
Asked about the charges, Roque sighs. He said he believes the Cuban government was justified in defending its air space, but he should not be held responsible for the deaths.
“I am not to blame. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t order anyone killed,” he said. “The decision to shoot down the planes was a decision of the sovereign Cuban government. The decision to shoot down the planes was taken because of the constant air incursions, violating air space.”
Some critics question his sincerity.
“If Roque is so convinced of his innocence, then he should turn himself in to stand trial and clear his name,” said Thomas Van Hare, co-author of Betrayal, a 2009 book about the shoot-down.
“He’s a maggot,” added the book’s second author, Matt Lawrence.
Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto said it’s difficult to know if Roque knew about the shoot-down in advance, but he “was instrumental” in the incident and there’s “nothing to be forgiven about that. He’s just guilty.”
No doubt, Roque is one of the most hated figures in South Florida after the Castro brothers. He’s the spy who got away. And after a home video of him singing, drinking liquor and greeting his mother in Spain surfaced on YouTube in 2011, Cuban exiles in Miami pounced.
“The son of a dog reappears,” the video proclaimed.
“This cockroach is the main person to blame for the death of four brave ones from Brothers to the Rescue,” one comment read. “If I get a hold of him, I’ll torture him.”
“He’s a handsome man,” another comment read. “What a shame, the human being that he is.”
Isolated in Cuba
“Richard Gere’s Cuban double,” as Roque has been called, learned to fly MiGs in the former Soviet Union.
He was soon a darling in Miami’s exile community. The largest exile organization, the Cuban American National Foundation, even financed his memoirs, The Deserter, in which he slams Cuban officials as “fat communists” and “heavy beer drinkers.”
Photos in the book show Roque hobnobbing with such anti-Castro lawmakers as U.S. Sen. Robert Menéndez, D-N.J., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
Roque remembers those days with a mix of nostalgia and regret.
He said he’s alone in Cuba now and misses his relatives in the United States.
“I have my three brothers, my uncles and my cousins there. I had a magnificent relationship with them while I was there.”
Alejandro Roque, 48, said he hasn’t been in touch with his older brother since 1996. He said he didn’t agree with Roque’s ideas back then.
“The world situation is complex, and often the ideologues fail to distinguish between governments and people ... bandits and victims,” Alejandro Roque said.
Asked if he had any regrets, Juan Pablo Roque said he wishes he had done more to stop the shoot-down.
“Perhaps now … I’d try to play a much stronger role in the things that happened,” he said. “I’d try to play a better role. If I played it bad or good, let the people decide. Let those who want to judge me, judge me.”