Martyred fliers kept commitment to fathers' homeland

In American soil, I experienced the immensity of liberty
for which I longed in the land I left behind.
Here I will struggle tirelessly to see my country free of evil.
I will strive to gain true freedom.
Pablo Morales

Pablo Morales, who was killed at 29, was representative of the new generation of Cubans.  He was born within the "Castro revolution", but wasn't happy in Cuba through communism named him a "new man".  In his first struggles, he found a way out via the sea.  There on a raft, he was rescued in 1992 and brought to South Florida.  He was killed just four years later -- six years ago today-- while working with his savior:  Brothers to the Rescue.  He was a geodesy technician and he loved the land left behind.

Carlos Alberto Costa was born in Florida, the second home to Cubans.  He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  He climbed the corporate ladder at one of the nation's largest and busiest airports.  He was a freedom lover and confessed to his parents his dreams of a democratic and free Cuba.

Carlos could have had anything, but chose sacrifice and spent his time saving lives.  When the people met him they had little choice but to love him and his honest smile.  He was killed at age 29.

"I can't conceive life without freedom of expression;  I've always thought of it as something natural and now I realize how important and fundamental it is in life and how terrible it is to live without it", said Mario de la Peņa.  Mario was born in New Jersey, home to the second biggest Cuban city in America, where he learned the poems of Marti and heard his first Cuban songs in his mom's tenderness.

Mario graduated with honors from Miami-Dade Community College.  Mario the seraphim wished to fly before he could walk.  His eyes were always full of dreams and blues.  When he was killed, he was a senior at Embry-Riddle, just 24.

Armando Alejandre, born in Havana of Cuban parents, arrived in the United States when he was 10 years old.  Eight years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and volunteered to fight in Vietnam, without even being a citizen yet.

Armando graduated from Florida International University.  He brought flowers to his wife during 21 years and left to his daughter his infinite love.

A week before two lieutenant colonels of the Cuban Air Force killed him and his three friends, he wrote in an article entitled Dreamers of the Day:  "The gathering proposed for Feb. 24 through 27 presents a defiance to the regime as it encounters organized dissidence at a time of economic difficulties and forecasts of economic crisis:  the type of dissidence that has attracted the attention and support of world personalities like former British Prime Minister Thatcher, Czech President Havel and renowned dissident Elena Bonner (widow of Andre Sakharov), the Spanish presidential candidate Jose Maria Aznar.

"Just this past week an open letter of support to Concilio was signed by over 200 international personalities, including politicians and 11 Nobel Prize winners.  Also supporting this effort are our two local federal representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.  The European Parliament has mirrored Concilio's demands as condition for a dialogue with Castro.  The pressure increases."

The assassins longed to take these four lives precisely on Feb. 24, 1996 but they couldn't.  They killed their civilian Cessna planes with their powerful MiG 29 war guns.  But they didn't touch their faces.  The faces of heroes and martyrs live on in the memory of the people.

They are the angels of a sacred cause even when awaiting a just end.  Pablo, Carlos Alberto, Mario and Armando are the symbols of the natural concilio -council-that endures regardless of the wishes of Castro.  Pablo is of the Cuban generations born within the revolution who want freedom and new opportunities.  Carlos Alberto and Mario are paradigms of Cuban Americans who have grown up in America, helping to build this nation without forgetting the commitment to the land of their fathers.

I must confess my admiration before so many examples of young professionals who have conquered the American Dream, but keep their Cuban dreams, too.  I have met these sons of Cubans born under the American flag, who at the same time have the word Patria chiseled by fire, with palms, sones and verses of the master Marti in their souls.

Armando, 45, was a model of the first emigration.  He gave his best for this country and didn't stop struggling for Cuban freedom.  They must be honored as hope keepers and patriots.

Castro gave the command to kill these four excellent people and Castro enclosed behind bars hundreds of Cubans who had asked and wanted to have a peaceful meeting in Cuba on February 24, 1996 - including me.  These Cubans came under the banner Concilio Cubano.  The regime's goal also was to kill Concilio Cubano.  But it, too, lives on in spirit.

Castro has shown his cowardice.  We know his weakness.  What are we Cubans waiting for?  We have four angels to point to the goal.

We must forget forever our failures and mistakes.  No one is perfect.  But who do we want to be?  By unifying, those brave dissidents inside Cuba would deal the regime a mortal blow.  And exiles could come meet with them, as well.   This time, all must to go the appointment without excuses.  The Patria is waiting.

Leonel Morejķn Almagro was a founder of Concilio Cubano, a coalition of dissident groups that were to meet on the day of Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down.  He now lives in Michigan.

Published in The Miami Herald.  February 26, 2002