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Cuban-Americans Call for Action Against Castro

February 26, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ Josvany de la Rosa Luis wants so badly to retaliate against Cuba for downing two unarmed civilian planes that he’s ready to join an invasion force if the United States needs volunteers.

``I still have family there, but I would go with pleasure,″ said de la Rosa Luis, 24. ``The same they did to the United States, we should do to them.″

Not all Cuban Exiles favor a military response to Saturday’s downing of two planes belonging to Brothers in Exiles, a Miami-based volunteer search-and-rescue group. But many are urging President Clinton to condemn Cuban President Fidel Castro with more than just harsh words.

``Forget about re-election,″ said Grysell Flores. ``Just do something to free that country.″

Flores was one of about 2,000 exiles who protested at Opa-locka Airport Sunday as the Coast Guard and Navy searched the Straits of Florida unsuccessfully for the planes’ four occupants. The search continued today.

Angry demonstrators chanted ``asesino,″ Spanish for assassin, sang the Cuban national anthem, and cheered when Florida congressional members urged an international blockade, much like the one the United States spearheaded to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency in Haiti.

``Why is the Cuban regime meritorious of any different kid glove treatment?″ asked Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.

A similar protest in New York attracted about 150 people and resulted in 13 arrests when protesters refused to move behind police barricades.

In northern New Jersey, which has the highest number of Cuban-Americans outside Miami, parishioners prayed Sunday for the four missing exiles.

``They are now martyrs for the cause of the freedom of Cuba,″ said the Rev. Raul Comesanas, pastor of St. Anthony’s in Union City, N.J.

``The community is in an uproar,″ said Remberto Perez, regional director of the Cuban American National Foundation. ``Castro has to know, the world has to know, that this is not tolerable.″

The Clinton administration decried the shooting as ``a blatant violation of international law″ and convened an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss punitive actions.

``Our position is that (the planes) were in international airspace and the Cubans knew it,″ said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that its government planes shot down two ``pirate planes″ because they had violated its airspace, coming within five to eight miles northwest of Havana.

Senior Clinton administration aides acknowledged at least one of the group’s three single-engine planes entered Cuban airspace at some point before Saturday’s shootdown. But they said the Cuban jet that downed them made no effort to signal impending danger to the pilots, such as wagging its wings. Nor did it try to escort the aircraft from the area before requesting permission to fire, they said.

Jose Basulto, the one surviving pilot who said his plane was closest to Cuba, said the two were shot down over international waters during a routine mission. In the past, he has flown over Havana to disseminate pamphlets urging peaceful protest against Castro but has not been grounded by U.S. aviation authorities.

After seeing military flares and one or possibly two MiG fighter planes cross in front of the windshield, Basulto said: ``We saw a large ball of smoke and flames in the water. We in our hearts ceased to believe what we were seeing.′

Some passengers on a cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s M.S. Majesty of the Seas, also witnessed the downing.

``The missile just hit the airplane and just blew it to pieces,″ Rusty Matchett, of Little Rock, Ark., told Miami television station WSVN. ``I mean, hardly any wreckage, no debris, just a puff of smoke and boom. Nothing.″