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Brothers to the Rescue founder donates records to UM’s Cuban Heritage Collection


Special to the Miami Herald

The 60-plus boxes of photographs, flight logs, news clippings, legal records and audiovisual recordings tell stories of the fight for freedom for more than 4,200 Cuban rafters during the 1990s.

For Brothers to the Rescue Founder José Basulto the historical materials were difficult to part with. But because of his group’s donation to the University of Miami Libraries Cuban Heritage Collection, historians can learn more about Brothers to the Rescue and its 1,800 search-and-rescue missions between Cuba and the United States.

The gift is part of Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the UM.

Basulto spoke at a recent reception that included honoring several volunteer pilots and some of the Brothers to the Rescue key supporters. He said the group operated on behalf of Cuban refugees and many who hadn’t yet left the island.

“Much of our role was sending messages of solidarity and love to the Cuban people,” Basulto said in a news release.

Brothers to the Rescue was founded in 1991 after it was learned a 15-year-old Cuban exile, Gregorio Perez Ricardo, died of dehydration in the arms of a U.S. Coast Guard officer only eight miles from land.

The Brothers, working with the U.S. Coast Guard, performed continuous search-and-rescue operations in the Florida Straits. The group slowed its missions after Cuban Air Force MiGs shot down four young volunteer pilots on Feb. 24, 1996. According to the UM website, the final Brothers to the Rescue flights were made in 2003.

“The story of the Brothers will forever be part of the larger history that we all share,” said Maria Estorino, chair of the Cuban Heritage Collection at the reception sponsored by TD Bank, Bacardi USA, and the Amigos of the Cuban Heritage Collection.

Basulto said the rescue missions were carried out through thousands of small donations. He first contacted Estorino in 2008 about the historical collection.

“We were ready to accept the materials then and there, but Basulto was not ready to part with them just yet,” Estorino said in a release.

Five years later, there was another call and the donation was made. Estorino said the next step is to establish resources for processing the archive — funding for student interns to organize, preserve and catalog the materials. The Libraries are calling for support from the public.

“Generations of future historians will benefit from the care and attention that the staff of the University of Miami Libraries and the Cuban Heritage Collection will bring to these important records,” said Dean of Libraries Charles Eckman.

For Brothers Founder Basulto, the records he saved will shed light on themany people involved and their place in history.

At the end of his speech, he commemorated the services of rescue pilots Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, and Mario de la Peña, the Brothers who lost their lives trying to help.

To learn more about UM’s Cuban Heritage Collection visit

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