Published Friday, June 21, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

Condemn Cuba's killers

A U.N. report says that Cuba downed two unarmed U.S. planes in international airspace. The U.N. ought to punish Cuba for its crime.

The Cuban government ought to ponder South African President Nelson Mandela's advice. This week he told Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina that Fidel Castro's regime ought to engage in conversations with its adversaries as a way to create a pluralist democracy such as South Africa's. Mr. Mandela informed Mr. Robaina that South Africans overcame their thorniest differences by questioning ``the wisdom of killing each other when we should have been talking.''

If Castro had questioned the dubious wisdom of ``killing opponents,'' then its air force would not have destroyed two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue civilian airplanes with three Cuban Americans and a Cuban on board. That is just what Castro's MiGs did last Feb. 24, summarily executing the four fliers. A third plane, piloted by Brothers President Jose Basulto, escaped and returned to Opa-locka unharmed.

The Clinton administration and the Cuban exile community asserted that the airplanes had been destroyed in international airspace. Castro's officials denied it -- not very convincingly.

However, a draft report of a justconcluded investigation by the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization has found that Cuba did in fact destroy the planes over international waters. It would have been a breach of accepted international custom to have shot down unarmed, nonthreatening civil aircraft no matter where they were flying. But destroying unarmed aircraft in international airspace makes it a heinous act of coldblooded, premeditated murder.

The ICAO's findings will be presented jointly to U.S. and Cuban diplomats soon. But its conclusion justifies a strong U.N. Security Council condemnation of Cuba's actions and a demand for reparations. The United States should urge the Security Council to act promptly. Cuba's aerial murderers must be held accountable for the unwise decision to kill unarmed opponents.

Basulto explains leafletting

The Federal Aviation Administration later revoked Mr. Basulto's pilot's license. He has gone to court to try to get his license back. He said then, and a Brothers spokesman reiterated yesterday, that none of the group's planes entered Cuban airspace on Feb. 24.

Not long after his license was revoked, Mr. Basulto climbed atop a chair in the Editorial Board's offices to show how his group showered Havana with leaflets without entering Cuban airspace. He dropped two of the 2.5-by-six-inch leaflets from over his head, and both rotated on their long axis and fell at an angle, landing several feet away.

Mr. Basulto says that Brothers tested the leaflets from the Key Biscayne bridge, timing their fall and horizontal travel. Their calculations showed that if dropped into a 20-mph wind, the leaflets would rotate horizontally at 2.6 feet per second. Thus leaflets dropped from 6,000 feet would land 13 miles away. That, he says, is how the Brothers' planes dropped leaflets on Havana without entering Cuban airspace, which extends 12 miles from Cuba's coast.

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Copyright 1996 The Miami Herald