Castro takes responsibility for downing civilian planes
March 2, 1996
Web posted at: 12:40 p.m. EST
(CNN) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro said he gave orders to his military to shoot down planes violating his country's airspace, weeks before Cuban fighters downed two civilian airplanes last Saturday.
In an interview with Time Magazine Wednesday at Cuba's Palace of the Revolution, Castro accepted responsibility for the downing of two planes flown by the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue although he did not say he gave specific orders to launch the attack.
"We gave the order to the head of the air force," Castro said referring to actions taken after Brothers to the Rescue dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Cuba twice in January. "On Saturday (Brothers' planes) came twice. The San Antonio air base was on high alert. On the third pass, (Cuban flyers) scrambled and did their job. They shot the planes down. They are professionals. They did what they believe is the right thing. These are all people we trust, but I take responsibility for what happened."
Castro said Cuba had no choice but to attack the planes because the United States had refused to take action to stop repeated violations of its airspace by Brothers to the Rescue.
"We reported each and every violation to the United States in a diplomatic protest. We warned U.S. officials again and again. We had been patient, but there are limits," Castro said in the interview which will appear in Time's March 11 issue to be published Monday.
In an interview with CNN, Joelle Attinger, Time's chief of correspondents and one of those who interviewed Castro, said Saturday, "What was striking is the degree to which he felt humiliated by the constant flights, Brothers flights, and I think that if anything was a factor it was the sense that Cuba had to defend its national security and that he himself Castro had to show that this was intolerable."
Castro said Cuban fighters did not attempt to force the Cessna planes to land instead of shooting them from the sky because it would have been too dangerous.
He acknowledged the incident would mar Cuban relations with the United States, but said Cuba could no longer tolerate actions of Brothers to the Rescue who he said have been engaging in "serious terrorist threats" against Cuba.
Asked why he did not attempt to discuss the situation directly with President Clinton before the downing of the planes, Castro was taken aback. "I have never talked to any president of the United States," he said. "They would murder Clinton if they found out he was talking to me."
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