Statement of Bill McCollum

Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime

Committee on the Judiciary

July 15, 1999

Oversight Hearing on the Shoot Down of the Brothers to the Rescue Planes


This hearing of the Subcommittee on Crime will come to order.

We're here today because on February 24th, 1996, two unarmed civilian planes flying in international air space were blown out of the sky by Cuban MiGs, killing all four persons aboard - Three of them Americans and the fourth a permanent U.S. resident. Their names are: Armando Alejandre, Jr.; Carlos Costa; Mario De La Pena; and Pablo Morales.

We're here because that barbaric shoot down left families victimized and communities in mourning and shock, and because the shoot down occurred without any warning and showed flagrant contempt for international law and basic human rights.

We're here because on May 7th, 1999 a federal indictment was handed down in the Southern District of Florida charging 14 individuals - some of them Cuban spies - with a well planned conspiracy called "Operation Scorpion" to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes.

We're here because -- as pointed out in the indictment itself -- the fingerprints of the Cuban Regime and, more specifically, Fidel Castro himself, are all over those two planes whose pieces lie at the bottom of the Florida Straights. Indeed, the indictment explicitly describes Fidel Castro's role in various aspects of the operation.

And we're here because a growing number of people, after reviewing all the facts and the applicable law, believe that Fidel Castro himself should be indicted for his leadership role in the conspiracy resulting in the violent deaths of those four innocent men on February 24th.

And I agree with that conclusion. We're here because the body of evidence, when evaluated in light of the law, overwhelming point to Castro's guilt.

The witnesses testifying today will present key pieces of that evidence. Some of the evidence cannot be presented today because it might impede the ongoing criminal case in the Southern District of Florida. But there is other evidence that can be considered today.

We will hear testimony from two defectors that describe how operations like the shoot down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes cannot occur without Castro's extensive involvement and approval, and how the Cuban Air Force actually practiced shooting down slow moving planes like those flown by the Brothers.

We will hear about top level Cuban military officials asking U.S. officials prior to the shoot down how the United States would react if Cuba shot down the Brothers planes.

And we will hear how the Cuban MiGs sought and were granted authorization to shoot down the Brothers planes, and how they were congratulated by Cuban Ground Control after the planes had been destroyed.

And we will hear how one of the Cuban spies who infiltrated the Brothers to the Rescue operation and fled back to Cuba just hours before the planes were shot down was promoted within the Cuban military upon his return.

And, remarkably, we will hear about Castro's own admission that he gave the order to the head of the Cuban Air Force to shoot down the planes.

We will also hear from an international law expert that Fidel Castro enjoys no immunity as a head of state from criminal prosecution by the United States when he is acting in violation of the law - as Castro did in this case by directing and approving the shoot down of civilian planes over international water.

After a review of the evidence by the Subcommittee on Crime I have reached the view that Fidel Castro should be indicted for his role in the Brothers shoot down.

I believe that Fidel Castro belongs in the company of Mr. Milosevic, Mr. Pinochet, and Mr. Noriega - and is similarly deserving of international condemnation and accountability under the law. How many more crimes against humanity, against pro-democracy Cubans and against Cuban-Americans will have to be committed before Fidel Castro is held accountable?

It's bad enough that Castro should be able to continue to perpetuate his regime in Cuba, causing Cubans untold suffering. But it is an even greater affront to the United States when Fidel Castro is able to violate U.S. laws, snuff out the lives of our citizens, and get away with it. And as those who have for so long valued liberty and freedom, we watch in horror as this repressive regime continues down its destructive path.

I know we're all pleased with the Federal District Court's ruling that Cuba is civilly liable for the death of the Brothers pilots and that a substantial civil judgment is in order. And yet, the Administration has repeatedly blocked attempts to allow the families to recover any of that judgment from frozen Cuban assets. And I think that directs the focus where it should be: On the Administration. Even as the civil judgement can only be enforced if there is the will to do so on the part of the Administration, so Fidel Castro can only be indicted if the Administration has the will to hold him accountable.


To bring Fidel Castro to justice will require leadership. And I hope this hearing helps to galvanize that leadership.

We will be joined this morning by a very special and accomplished panel of witnesses. I look forward to their testimony.

Let me also note that we are joined today by my two good friends from Florida - Ms. Ros Lehtinen and Mr. Diaz-Balart. Given their strong interest in getting to the bottom of this incident, I want to ask unanimous consent that they both be permitted to make opening statements if they wish, after the Members of the Subcommittee have made their opening statements.