The civil action that declared the Cuban government and the Cuban Air Force guilty in the shoot-down is significant in this search for justice. Options are more limited in criminal courts, where the U.S. government represents and defends the victims. The Wasp Network prosecution, and the conviction and sentencing of Gerardo Hernández, however, were very important achievements, as are the existing indictments for Lorenzo Alberto Perez y Perez and Francisco Perez y Perez, the pilots who shot down the aircraft, and for Gen. Ruben Martinez Puente, who directly authorized the shoot-down.
These indictments remain in U.S. courts waiting for the time when U.S.-Cuba relations allow prosecution here.
But much is missing. Indictments are needed for the many responsible for the shoot-down in addition to the existing ones for those immediately and physically involved. Prosecution for all human rights violations committed against Americans by Cuba should be an integral part of negotiations when the two countries eventually meet as democratic societies; the Feb. 24, 1996 shoot-down, among many others, has to be included.
Nor should justice be derailed by Cuba’s international propaganda machine, now trying to promote a prisoner exchange for Alan Gross, being held hostage in Cuba, or even a pardon, for the five members of the Wasp Network. Four of the men are currently serving sentences in U.S. prisons and one is out on parole. There is no equivalency with Gross in this exchange; the convicted Wasp Network members have had all the advantages of the U.S. justice system, all the way to the Supreme Court, in contrast with Gross’ inability to defend himself in Cuba.
Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland has affirmed that the U.S. government has no intentions of entering into an exchange of Gerardo Hernández and the other four members of the Wasp Network. Any swap including Hernández would be a travesty of the rule of law and it is important that there is pressure on elected officials to prevent this.
The shoot-down demands justice not only for Carlos, Armando, Mario and Pablo, but also for their families, for the community that they were part of, and for the defense of human rights everywhere. Juan Pablo Roque’s interview and the pain it refreshes should be used not only to mourn the loss of these four men, but to renew efforts for justice as the best tribute to their lives.