Seventeen years after Cuban MiG warplanes killed his brother and three other South Florida men, Nelson Morales says he still wants to punish the two people responsible.
“We are still searching for justice, to prosecute the two principal murderers, Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro,” said Morales, whose brother Pablo died in the shootdown of two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue airplanes.
So the Miami maintenance worker has filed a legal demand that U.S. federal prosecutors submit evidence to a special grand jury in South Florida showing the Castro brothers’ guilt in the 1996 shootdown.
“I don’t know why they haven’t done this before. I can’t speculate. But it is the right thing to do. Let the grand jury decide whether to indict the Castros,” said lawyer Juan Zorrilla, who is handling the Morales suit.
Zorrilla filed the “writ of mandamus” — a request that a court compel a government entity to take action on a public issue — on July1 demanding that the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami submit evidence “implicating Fidel and Raúl Castro in the murders.”
Prosecutors also should inform the special grand jury that it can pursue an investigation on its own, force the U.S. attorney’s office to produce evidence implicating the Castros and request that federal charges be filed against the brothers, the complaint added.
Assistant U.S. attorney Eduardo I. Sanchez filed a reply last week asking U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno to throw out the demand because Morales does not have the legal standing to file such a complaint.
Morales’ complaint also failed to prove that he was personally harmed by his brother’s death, and showed that he had not exhausted all of the legal avenues available to him for seeking redress, Sanchez added. Moreno has not ruled.
Pablo Morales, Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre and Mario de la Peña were killed Feb. 24, 1996, when Cuban MiG fighters shot down two small Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) airplanes. Their bodies were never recovered.
“They killed him. They assassinated him. They pulverized him,” Nelson Morales said.
Cuba had complained that BTTR airplanes had dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Havana earlier in 1996, and that the two airplanes were shot down in Cuban airspace. An investigation by the U.N.’s aviation branch concluded that the planes were shot down far out in international airspace and in violation of established procedures.
Federal prosecutors in Miami filed murder charges in August of 2003 against Gen. Ruben Martinez Puente, who was head of Cuba’s air defense in 1996, and brothers Lorenzo Alberto and Francisco Pérez Pérez, the pilots of the two MiGs. But they did not indict either of the Castro brothers.
Zorrilla said he has been working for several years on the mandamus demand with the backing of the Juridical Rescue Foundation headed by Santiago Alvarez, a Miami developer and anti-Castro activist jailed for 30 months on an illegal weapons charge.
Former U.S. Attorney Kendall B. Coffey first urged the federal prosecutors to submit the evidence against the Castro brothers to a grand jury about five years ago, Alvarez said.
“They said, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ and they never did. We realized that the government was never going to facilitate this,” Alvarez said, adding that there should be some legal way to seek redress. “If not, this will be a very large stain on American justice.”