Why after more than 16 years of silence is Juan Pablo Roque now talking about the Feb. 24 shoot-down? Roque spoke to journalist Tracey Eaton from his home in Havana; they talked about the four years that Roque spent in the United States and his present life in Cuba. They also discussed the shoot-down by Cuban MiGs of two American civilian aircraft in 1996.
Roque, a former Cuban MiG pilot, had defected to the United States in 1992. He adapted well to life within Miami’s Cuban-American community and became a member of Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) as a civilian pilot volunteer in the group’s search-and-rescue missions for Cuban rafters.
But the reality was another; Roque was a double-agent working for the Cuban government. On Feb. 23, 1996, Roque fled the United States to make his way back to the island. The following day two small, unarmed BTTR planes were shot down over international waters while looking for Cuban rafters. Three Americans and one U.S. resident were murdered when their planes were downed without previous warning, in egregious violation of international law.
Carlos A. Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario M. de la Peña and Pablo Morales were killed.
On Feb. 26, Roque went before Cuban television and gave his version of the shoot-down. He detailed his disenchantment with the United States and what he described as the anti-Cuban government nature of the Miami Cuban-American community. The interview confirmed suspicions that Roque’s disappearance was related to the downing, later verified with his indictment as a member of the Wasp Network (Red Avispa), a Cuban espionage ring working in the United States and exposed in 1998.
Why did Roque agree to this interview? Does he want to reclaim the “persona’’ that was lost when, as an exposed spy, he was out of a job? Is he still resentful because the Cuban government apparently would never trust him to again fly an airplane? Is he, unconvincingly, trying to mend fences with a community he betrayed?
In the interview Roque provided information on the shoot-down that ties him even more closely to this crime. His complicity had already become more obvious through evidence presented at the trial of the five members of the Wasp Network. Communications between members of the network and Cuba included warnings to preclude Roque and Wasp member Rene Gonzalez from flying with BTTR on the 24th, and the warnings were relayed to them.
In the Eaton interview, Roque claims that if he could use a time machine and reverse events, he would make sure that the four murdered men didn’t fly that day. How could he have done this if he had no knowledge of what was going to happen? In another part of the interview Roque states that “those who want to judge me’’ should be able to; charging him in U.S. courts for the shoot-down would be part of the road to justice.
Roque, however, plays only a part in a complete justice plan for the shoot-down.
Justice has proven elusive and incomplete for various reasons, including the United States’ initial reaction. In February 1996, Ana Belen Montes, the most senior Cuba analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, advised President Clinton on the U.S. response to the shoot-down. What was essentially an international crisis was allowed to become a bilateral U.S.-Cuba issue. In 2002 Montes pled guilty to spying for Cuba and is now serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison; until the documents related to her trial and the shoot-down are declassified, we won’t know how much damage she caused.