Cuban Exile Group Changed Mission From Rescue To Revolt
MIAMI (AP) _ Founded five years ago with a mission to rescue those fleeing Cuba, the ragtag squad of exiles that call themselves Brothers to the Rescue have refocused their energies to provoke the Cuban government and try to incite a revolution.
The group came to national attention in 1994, flying daily runs over the waters between Florida and Cuba to help rescue the thousands of refugees who fled the island on rafts. About 33,000 Cubans fled the island that summer.
As of last spring, the group had five planes and a $1.2 million annual budget, all from donations. It estimates that its volunteer pilots have assisted nearly 6,000 people.
But the group’s mission changed after May 1995, when President Clinton, changed U.S. policy and began returning Cubans found at sea and the flow of refugees virtually stopped.
Signs of that new mission were seen last July, when two Brothers’ planes flew over Havana in a show of defiance, accompanied by a demonstration by exiles off Cuban waters. It ended when a Cuban gunboat rammed the lead boat of the flotilla.
After that flyover, Cuban officials warned that any aircraft that violated Cuban airspace risked being shot down.
Jose Basulto, the group’s founder and a veteran of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, said he made a flyover on Jan. 13 in which thousands of leaflets with anti-government slogans were dropped over Havana.
Basulto was one of the people on the third plane that escaped gunfire Saturday, said Mirta Iglesias, wife of Arnaldo Iglesias, the returning pilot.
After the January demonstration, which Basulto said was meant to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, the group said it was planning to continue to try to incite non-violent protests on the island.
The group still flies missions to the Bahamas to deliver supplies to refugees housed in camps in Nassau.