Published Saturday, July 27, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

U.N. approves U.S. resolution, condemns Cuba for shoot-down

Herald Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- In a rare defeat for Havana in the United Nations, the Security Council on Friday approved a U.S. resolution condemning Cuba for downing two Miami-based civilian planes Feb. 24, killing their four crew members.

``This council has pronounced Cuba guilty of violating international law,'' U.S. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright exulted after the 13-0 vote, as she stared at the Cuban envoy, Ricardo Alarcon.

Cuban MiG warplanes shot down the unarmed planes piloted by members of the volunteer group Brothers to the Rescue.

Russia and China abstained, but did not use their veto to defend Havana in an international forum that has traditionally favored Cuba's Communist government.

American officials did not seek U.N. sanctions against Cuba, so the U.N. debate over the past week at times seemed little more than a war of words, with diplomats bickering over terms like ``welcome'' or ``endorse.''

But the importance of the vote against Cuba was reflected in the aggressive defense staged by Alarcon in a detailed exposition that went on for 83 minutes, compared to Albright's five-minute speech presenting the resolution.

Alarcon accused U.S. officials of ``manufacturing'' evidence for the investigation by the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which concluded that Cuba shot down the Brothers to the Rescue planes in international airspace and not over Cuban territory.

A heated defense

Alarcon insisted the shoot-down took place in Cuban airspace, waved documents he said proved the planes were semi-military craft bent on ``premeditated provocation'' and accused Washington of refusing to stop them.

``The main guilty party here is the United States, which seems incapable or unwilling to enforce international regulations on violations of sovereignty,'' he said. ``They did nothing.''

Albright appealed to Security Council members to brand the shoot-down a ``cowardly and cold-blooded'' act and put aside their sympathies for Cuba on other disputes between Havana and the United States.

``This is not about the U.S.-Cuba conflict . . . This is not about the U.S. embargo against Cuba,'' she said. ``This is fundamentally a question of international law.''

Ambassadors from Colombia, Vietnam and Laos -- none members of the Security Council -- asked for special permission to speak and argued that Washington was required by law to halt Brothers violations of Cuban territory.

China, Russia abstain

China and Russia both supported the resolution's condemnation of the use of weapons against civilian aircraft. But they said they were abstaining because the resolution did not equally condemn Washington's failure to block the Brothers overflights.

But Western European nations, Chile and Honduras -- and several African and Asian nations -- argued that the need to protect human lives in civilian aircraft should have priority over Cuba's sovereign right over its territory.

In a sarcasm-laden summation after the vote, Albright said Alarcon had ``used many words but said nothing. I heard no apology . . . no expressions of sympathy for the families of the four people killed.''

But it was British Ambassador Sir John Weston who most harshly blasted Alarcon, calling his speech ``a virtuoso demonstration of the art of filibuster'' and a solid example of ``the tactic of the whopper.''

``When one wants to take liberties with the truth, the tactic of the whopper says that if you tell it long enough and loud enough there's a sporting chance that someone will believe it, if only out of sheer exhaustion,' he said.

Added Weston: ``To quote Shakespeare, perhaps the envoy doth protest too much.''

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1996 The Miami Herald.