The Cuban spy who betrayed his Brothers
Brothers to the Rescue
The Cuban spy who betrayed his Brothers
The sister of a victim of Cuba's shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue
pilots is unimpressed by Juan Pablo Roque's recent interview.
By Maggie Alejandre Khuly
Why after more than 16 years of silence is Juan Pablo Roque now talking
about the Feb. 24 shoot-down? Roque spoke to journalist Tracey Eaton
from his home in Havana; they talked about the four years that Roque
spent in the United States and his present life in Cuba. They also
discussed the shoot-down by Cuban MiGs of two American civilian aircraft
Roque, a former Cuban MiG pilot, had defected to the United States in
1992. He adapted well to life within Miami's Cuban-American community
and became a member of Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) as a civilian pilot
volunteer in the group's search-and-rescue missions for Cuban rafters.
But the reality was another; Roque was a double-agent working for the
Cuban government. On Feb. 23, 1996, Roque fled the United States to make
his way back to the island. The following day two small, unarmed BTTR
planes were shot down over international waters while looking for Cuban
rafters. Three Americans and one U.S. resident were murdered when their
planes were downed without previous warning, in egregious violation of
Carlos A. Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario M. de la Peña and Pablo
Morales were killed.
On Feb. 26, Roque went before Cuban television and gave his version of
the shoot-down. He detailed his disenchantment with the United States
and what he described as the anti-Cuban government nature of the Miami
Cuban-American community. The interview confirmed suspicions that
Roque's disappearance was related to the downing, later verified with
his indictment as a member of the Wasp Network (Red Avispa), a Cuban
espionage ring working in the United States and exposed in 1998.
Why did Roque agree to this interview? Does he want to reclaim the
"persona'' that was lost when, as an exposed spy, he was out of a job?
Is he still resentful because the Cuban government apparently would
never trust him to again fly an airplane? Is he, unconvincingly, trying
to mend fences with a community he betrayed?
In the interview Roque provided information on the shoot-down that ties
him even more closely to this crime. His complicity had already become
more obvious through evidence presented at the trial of the five members
of the Wasp Network. Communications between members of the network and
Cuba included warnings to preclude Roque and Wasp member Rene Gonzalez
from flying with BTTR on the 24th, and the warnings were relayed to them.
In the Eaton interview, Roque claims that if he could use a time machine
and reverse events, he would make sure that the four murdered men didn't
fly that day. How could he have done this if he had no knowledge of what
was going to happen? In another part of the interview Roque states that
"those who want to judge me'' should be able to; charging him in U.S.
courts for the shoot-down would be part of the road to justice.
Roque, however, plays only a part in a complete justice plan for the
Justice has proven elusive and incomplete for various reasons, including
the United States' initial reaction. In February 1996, Ana Belen Montes,
the most senior Cuba analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency,
advised President Clinton on the U.S. response to the shoot-down. What
was essentially an international crisis was allowed to become a
bilateral U.S.-Cuba issue. In 2002 Montes pled guilty to spying for Cuba
and is now serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison; until the
documents related to her trial and the shoot-down are declassified, we
won't know how much damage she caused.
The civil action that declared the Cuban government and the Cuban Air
Force guilty in the shoot-down is significant in this search for
justice. Options are more limited in criminal courts, where the U.S.
government represents and defends the victims. The Wasp Network
prosecution, and the conviction and sentencing of Gerardo Hernández,
however, were very important achievements, as are the existing
indictments for Lorenzo Alberto Perez y Perez and Francisco Perez y
Perez, the pilots who shot down the aircraft, and for Gen. Ruben
Martinez Puente, who directly authorized the shoot-down.
These indictments remain in U.S. courts waiting for the time when
U.S.-Cuba relations allow prosecution here.
But much is missing. Indictments are needed for the many responsible for
the shoot-down in addition to the existing ones for those immediately
and physically involved. Prosecution for all human rights violations
committed against Americans by Cuba should be an integral part of
negotiations when the two countries eventually meet as democratic
societies; the Feb. 24, 1996 shoot-down, among many others, has to be
Nor should justice be derailed by Cuba's international propaganda
machine, now trying to promote a prisoner exchange for Alan Gross, being
held hostage in Cuba, or even a pardon, for the five members of the Wasp
Network. Four of the men are currently serving sentences in U.S. prisons
and one is out on parole. There is no equivalency with Gross in this
exchange; the convicted Wasp Network members have had all the advantages
of the U.S. justice system, all the way to the Supreme Court, in
contrast with Gross' inability to defend himself in Cuba.
Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland has affirmed that the
U.S. government has no intentions of entering into an exchange of
Gerardo Hernández and the other four members of the Wasp Network. Any
swap including Hernández would be a travesty of the rule of law and it
is important that there is pressure on elected officials to prevent this.
The shoot-down demands justice not only for Carlos, Armando, Mario and
Pablo, but also for their families, for the community that they were
part of, and for the defense of human rights everywhere. Juan Pablo
Roque's interview and the pain it refreshes should be used not only to
mourn the loss of these four men, but to renew efforts for justice as
the best tribute to their lives.
Khuly, a Miami architect, is the sister of shoot-down victim Armando