Cuba

Seven members of Congress say now is the time to indict Raúl Castro

These photos of Brothers to the Rescue members Carlos A. Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales were set up outside Florida International University’s Graham Center for a 2017 ceremony on the anniversary of the shoot-down.
These photos of Brothers to the Rescue members Carlos A. Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales were set up outside Florida International University’s Graham Center for a 2017 ceremony on the anniversary of the shoot-down. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Dear Mr. President:

To continue the fight for justice, we write today to ask that you hold former Cuban President Raúl Castro accountable for the murder of three American citizens, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Carlos Costa, as well as Pablo Morales, a legal permanent resident. ...

So begins a letter signed by seven members of Congress and sent to President Donald Trump, the latest salvo in a campaign to indict Castro for deaths that occurred 22 years ago.

On Feb. 24, 1996, the four men — two pilots and two spotters — were flying in international waters when two Cuban MiGs shot them down. Despite the passage of time, some exile groups and politicians are growing more insistent that Castro, who retired from the Cuban presidency on April 19, should be held responsible.

The letter sent to Trump on Wednesday follows a June 20 House subcommittee hearing on the shoot-down, a petition campaign in South Florida and a May letter sent by two Florida Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, asking Trump to consider an investigation into whether Castro should be indicted.

The Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue flew volunteer missions to spot Cuban rafters in need of assistance, but in the months before the shoot-down, some pilots in the organization dropped anti-Castro bumper stickers, leaflets and religious medals over Havana. The Cuban government had warned that if the actions didn’t stop, they might shoot the planes down.

Through the years, there have been unsuccessful efforts to try to indict Castro, who headed Cuba’s armed forces at the time of the shoot-down. With a president in the White House who has taken a harder line on Cuba, the indictment campaign has been revived.

“Mr. President, the Obama apology tour is over, and you have reclaimed the mission to enact justice on behalf of the American people. Therefore, the United States must bring an indictment against Raúl Castro to insure the faithful execution of the law,” states the letter.

It was signed by Florida Republicans Ron DeSantis, Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, Ted Yoho, Matt Gaetz and Bill Posey.

They asked Trump to direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to begin an investigation of Castro for his role in the shoot-down.

Lawyers say even if their efforts are successful, it is highly unlikely that Castro, who remains the chief of Cuba’s Communist Party, would ever stand trial in the United States.

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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