Miami-Area Cuban-Americans Press for U.S. Indictment of Raúl Castro

As discussed in an earlier post, on May 22, 2018. two Cuban-American politicians—U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL)–asked President Trump to have the U.S. Department of Justice investigate whether the U.S. could and should indict Raul Castro, Cuba’s former President, for the deaths of four Americans in Cuba’s 1996 shooting down close to Cuban air space of  two U.S. private planes engaged in the private mission of Brothers To The Rescue (“BTTR”).

Now, according to the Miami Herald, some Cuban exile groups and their political allies have begun to intensify a campaign for such an indictment. Such groups include Inspire American Foundation, the Assembly of Cuban Resistance (Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana) and Directorio Democrático Cubano[1]

 Congressional Hearing on Possible Indictment[2]

One step in this direction was a June 20 hearing on “Holding Cuba Leaders Accountable” by the House Oversight Committee’s National Security Subcommittee, which is chaired by Representative Ron DeSantis (Rep., FL), who has been endorsed by President Trump for the Republican nomination for Florida governor and who has made free Cuba one of his major campaign causes.

Four of the witnesses were supportive of such an indictment:  Roger F. Noriega, a Visiting Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute; Jason L. Poblete, a private-practice attorney in Alexandria, Virginia; and two relatives of two of the Americans killed in the 1996 plane crash (Ms. Ana Alejandre Ciereszko and Miriam de la Peńa). Disagreeing with this position was the other witness, William LeoGrande, an American University professor and a student of U.S.-Cuba relations.

After the hearing, Representative DeSantis said he supported such an indictment.[3]

Noriega Testimony[4]

Although Noriega did not directly endorse an indictment of Raúl Castro, he laid out what he thought were facts that would be a predicate for such an indictment: Fidel Castro admitted that he and Raúl orchestrated the attack on the two U.S. private planes and that Raúl personally ordered the attack.

Poblete Testimony[5]

 Attorney Poblete urged the Departments of Justice and State “to move swiftly by indicting Raúl Castro” for the shooting down of the BTTR planes in 1996. His other recommendations: (a) “declassify all records that can be declassified related to the [BTTR] Shoot down;” (b) indict “other international outlaws who have harmed American citizens;” (c) “create an Inter-Agency Task Force to track Down international outlaws in the Americas;” (d) “seek International cooperation to hold Cuban criminals accountable;” (e) “known violators of fundamental rights must not be allowed access to the [U.S.];” (f) “conduct and publish a bottom-up review of Obama and Bush Administration Cuba policy:” (g) consider establishing a Special International Criminal Tribunal for Cuba and the Americas for “atrocity crimes and other gross violations of human rights:” and (h) “take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of American citizens posted at the U.S. Embassy in Havana” and “cooperate with defense teams representing victims.”

 LeoGrande Testimony[6]

 “With regard to seeking criminal indictments against Cuban officials for human rights abuses, even if there were legal grounds for securing such indictments, the accused could not be brought to trial because Cuban law prohibits the extradition of Cuban nationals. In 1982, four Cuban officials were indicted in Florida for narcotics trafficking, and the only effect of those indictments was to delay the establishment of counter-narcotic cooperation between the [U.S.] and Cuba until the late 1990s. In 2003, the two Cuban pilots responsible for shooting down the [BTTR]  planes were indicted in Florida, along with their commanding general, on a variety of charges, including murder. That case had not progressed either.”

“Pursuing human rights indictments today might be symbolically satisfying to some, but it would only serve to poison the atmosphere of bilateral relations and impede existing law enforcement cooperation, which has been improving. That would endanger our ability to secure the extradition of U.S. nationals who commit crimes here and then flee to Cuba, and our ability to pursue the prosecution in Cuba of Cuban nationals for crimes committed in the United States. These are areas in which there has been significant progress since 2014, progress that has continued despite the Trump administration’s decision to back away from the normalization of relations.”

“Cuba today is going through a process of change, both in its leadership and in its economy. The old generation that founded the regime is leaving the political stage—most are already gone. At the same time, Cuba is trying to move from the old Soviet-style economic system to some version of market socialism like Vietnam and China. Economic reform is providing Cubans greater economic freedom and, if it succeeds, it could raise their standard of living significantly. U.S. policy ought to facilitate that change, not impede it. Ultimately the people of Cuba will determine their nation’s future and decide issues of accountability. If the United States wants to have a positive influence on these developing changes, it has to be engaged, not sitting on the sidelines.”

“Whether your principal concern is human rights, or compensation for nationalized U.S. property, or the return of U.S. fugitives, or Cuba’s support for the failing regime in Venezuela, there is no chance of making progress on any of those issues with a policy of hostility that relies exclusively on sanctions—especially when no other country in the world observes those sanctions. The historical record is clear that sanctions only work when they are multilateral. Moreover, our current economic sanctions targeting the whole Cuban economy, rather than specific individuals, harms the living standards of ordinary Cubans. That is why the last three Popes, including John Paul II, who was no friend of communism, opposed the embargo.”

“Moreover, as we back away from engagement with Cuba, China and Russia are rushing in to fill the vacuum.”

After the hearing, LeoGrande said he had been contacted by a Democratic staff member to testify and was told his testimony should center on the value of engagement with Cuba. “I didn’t realize the sole purpose of the subcommittee hearing was to launch a campaign to indict Raúl Castro,” he said. “The hearing was political theater.”[7]

Conclusion

Nothing happened at this congressional hearing to change this blogger’s assessment of the issue of whether the U.S. should indict Raúl Castro for his alleged involvement in the 1996 crash of two private U.S. planes.[8] The U.S. should not do so for the following reasons:

  1. The BTTR was not “a humanitarian organization,” at least with respect to the private planes it had flown to Cuba.
  2. The BTTR did not “operate rescue missions to search for Cubans who fled the island by sea.”
  3. Instead the BTTR, at least from 1994 through early 1996, operated to harass the government of Cuba by dropping anti-Castro leaflets over Cuba itself.
  4. On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force was provoked by the BTTR flights that day and previously.
  5. Prior to July 24, 1996, the Cuban Government repeatedly sought the assistance of the U.S. Government to stop the BTTR flights to Cuba.
  6. The U.S. Government, however, did not adequately attempt to stop BTTF flights to Cuba.
  7. Yes, the U.S. in 2003 indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force and the two Cuban pilots of the jet fighter planes that shot down the two private planes flown by BTTR pilots on February 24, 1996, but nothing has happened in that case because the Cuban defendants have not been in the U.S.
  8. Yes, the U.S. in 1998 indicted the Cuban Five for various crimes, even though they were not personally involved in the shooting down of the two BTTR planes on February 24, 1996, and they were convicted and sentenced to U.S. prison for long periods of time. By December 2014, two of them had completed their sentences, been released from U.S. prisons and returned to Cuba, and on December 17, 2014, the remaining three’s sentences were commuted to time served (16 years including pretrial detention) by President Obama and they also were released from U.S. prison and returned to Cuba while Cuba simultaneously released U.S. citizen Alan Gross and another man who had spied for the U.S. from a Cuban prison and returned them to the U.S.
  9. The release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five on December 17, 2014, was part of the praiseworthy overall U.S.-Cuba agreement to embark on the path of normalization of relations. It was not, as the Rubio/Diaz-Balart letter states, part of the shameful “appeasement policy.”[8]
  10. There never has been any contention that Raúl Castro was involved in any way in the downing of the two BTTR planes in February 1996. Instead Rubio and Diaz-Balart allege that at the time Raúl was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and thus presumably in overall charge of everything involving the Cuban Air Force.
  11. now nearly 87 years old and no longer Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro is still Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and has retired to Santiago de Cuba at the eastern end of the island. Presumably he will not be coming to the U.S. in the future, especially if he were to be indicted as Rubio and Diaz-Balart suggest.

In short, the suggestion that Castro be indicted is a cheap, unfounded political trick only designed to continue to stroke the egos of the Cuban-Americans in Florida who cannot forget and forgive the past. The U.S. should not waste time and money on such a wild-goose chase.

======================================

[1]  Whitefield, Campaign intensifies to indict Raúl Castro for deadly 1996 shoot-down of exile planes, Miami Herald (June 27, 2018).

[2]   House Comm. on Oversight & Government Reform, Subcommittee on National Security, Hearing: Holding Cuban Leaders Accountable (June 20, 2018).

[3] After the hearing. Representative DeSantis announced that he supported an indictment of Raúl Castro. (Crabtree, DeSantis joins call for Trump to indict Raul Castro, FoxNews (June 25, 2018).

[4] Noriega, Time  to Confront Cuba’s International Crime Spree  (June 20, 2018)   In the George W. Bush Administration, Noriega was Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and then Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

[5] Poblete, Prepared Remarks for House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security (June 20, 2018).

[6] LeoGrande, Testimony Before the Subcomm. on National Security, Comm. on Oversight and Government Reform (June 20, 2018).

[7]  Whitefield, Campaign intensifies to indict Raúl Castro for deadly 1996 shoot-down of exile planes, Miami Herald (June 27, 2018).

[8] Should U.S. Indict Raúl Castro for 1996 Downing of Cuban-American Planes?, dwkcommentaries.com (May 27, 2018).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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