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Clinton moves to punish Cuba for downing planes

Shootdown

February 27, 1996
Web posted at: 1:00 a.m. EST

(CNN) -- Shortly after meeting with his top national security advisers, President Clinton on Monday announced a series of limited steps designed to punish Cuba for shooting down two small civilian planes Saturday.

Cuba responded by producing a Cuban pilot who said the group sending the planes was a counter-revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow and possibly harm Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Leaders of Brothers to the Rescue, who sent the planes that were shot down by Cuban MiG fighters Saturday, have said their group flew humanitarian missions in the Florida Straits to search for Cuban rafters leaving the island.

Clinton

"This shooting of civilian aircraft out of the air was a flagrant violation of international law. It is wrong and the United States will not tolerate it," Clinton said during a news briefing on the sanctions Monday. (179K AIFF sound or 179K WAV sound)

The administration is pursuing some form of international condemnation from the United Nations Security Council. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright said Monday, "We are pushing very hard in the (Security) council ... for a way to condemn this heinous blatant disregard of international law and the shooting down of unarmed civilian airplanes." (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound)

The U.N. Security Council was debating a trimmed down statement that may condemn Cuba for firing on three civilian aircraft piloted by members of the anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue.

The proposed statement has reportedly met with resistance from Security Council members China and Russia.

The Cuban delegation to the U.N. has asked the Security Council to delay action until the Cuban foreign minister arrives in the United States, possibly on Tuesday.

Clinton announces sanctions

In addition to pursuing international sanctions, Clinton pledged Monday to work with Congress to pass the so-called Helms-Burton legislation which would tighten the existing U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The president said he would ask Congress to permit him to use some of the approximately $100 million in frozen Cuban assets in the U.S. to compensate the families of the four missing Cuban-American pilots and crew members.

Clinton also announced additional punitive measures, among them:

Some call sanctions weak

President Clinton did not cut Cuban telephone links with the U.S. or cash transfers from Cuban-Americans to their relatives. Nor did he impose any military sanctions, such as a naval blockade, which many Cuban-American activists wanted.

Rodriguez

"They really think that this time Castro went a little bit too far, and economic measurements will not be enough," said Damasco Rodriguez, a reporter for WAQI Radio, who covers the Cuban-American community in the United States. (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)

Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole called the measures weak and said Clinton is still coddling Castro.

"The president called a security council meeting and for two days, he wrung his hands. Today at 4:30, he laid an egg ... and I think it is a shame, President Clinton's weak action today did not match his tough rhetoric," Dole said. (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

White House officials acknowledge the president's actions will have little economic impact on Castro's regime but they said they wanted to leave room for tougher sanctions to increase the pressure if necessary.

Cuba shrugs off sanctions

Alacron

Havana had little response to the latest round of sanctions. Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly said Cuba was justified in downing the planes because the pilots were "carrying out intolerable acts of provocation." (281K AIFF sound or 281K WAV sound)

Alarcon, who insisted the pilots violated Cuban airspace said, "Those activities were getting worse and worse. We had to stop them."

"If it is an election year what can we do?" Alarcon said suggesting the sanctions were an effort to improve Clinton's position with voters in an election year.

A taped radio transmission from Brothers to the Rescue recorded a conversation between its president Jose Basulto and Cuban air traffic controllers as three planes came near Cuban waters Saturday.



Spanish portion of transmission (238K AIFF or WAV sound)

English portion of transmission (604K AIFF or WAV sound)


Warned to stay away from the 24th parallel, a line by which Cuba defines its territory, Basulto said, "We're aware that we're in peril every time we cross the area south of the 24th, but we are willing to do it. It is our condition of being free Cubans."

Cuban pilot claims anti-Castro group not harmless

ROQUE

While Cuba has given no indication that it has found bodies or survivors, it has announced that it has in its custody a Cuban pilot, Juan Pablo Roque, who was a member of Brothers to the Rescue.

In an interview with Cuban television Roque, who appeared to have infiltrated the group on behalf of the Cuban government, denounced Brothers to the Rescue as a counter-revolutionary organization that had even planned attacks on Castro.

He said members of Brothers to the Rescue had asked him for detailed information on Cuban highways where they could land planes and leave explosives so dissidents there could use them to blow up power stations.

He said Miami Cubans were paying the anti-Castro organization to fly into Cuba to pick up relatives to get them out of the country.

There is already speculation that Roque is a Cuban pilot who defected to the United States, joined Brothers to the Rescue but who, in fact, may have been working all along for the Cuban government.



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Reuters contributed to this report.

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