Cuban MiG pilot says U.S. planes were warned
March 5, 1996
Web Posted at: 9:50 p.m. EST
HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- A Cuban MiG pilot said Tuesday he warned both U.S.-based Cessnas before shooting them down February 24.
Lt. Col. Lorenzo Alberto Perez said he dipped his wings to warn the planes. When they did not respond, he said, he followed orders and shot them out of the sky.
Perez made his comments in an interview with Cuban television Tuesday along with Gen. Ruben Martinez, chief of anti-air defenses of the Cuban Armed Forces. Martinez said Cuba was the victim and said, "We had to act."
"We completed our orders and advised our command that this plane paid no attention to our warning," Perez said. "Immediately we were given the order to interrupt this flight."
"We greatly lament the loss of human life"
-- Lt. Col. Lorenzo Alberto Perez
Perez said he did use the word "cojones," Spanish slang for testicles, when shooting down the planes, but he said he used the word out of excitement in carrying out the mission. He said the expression was in no way was meant to be "disrespectful for human life." "We greatly lament the loss of human life," he said.
He said Cuba had faced 20 months of provocation from the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue and that fighters had been ordered to scramble almost daily. Perez said he used the term out of relief that they had finally done something to stop the provocations.
Brothers to the Rescue was formed in 1991 and flies over international waters to help the Coast Guard rescue refugees fleeing Cuba. They have also dropped leaflets over the country criticizing Fidel Castro's communist government.
Perez said the February 24 incident began when pilots received instructions that planes from the group were violating Cuban air space.
Perez said he was told to warn the first plane he sighted to leave Cuban air space, which he said he did. The plane did not acknowledge the warning, he said. He then radioed that the plane had not responded and was then told to "interrupt this flight." He said he followed the orders and shot down the plane.
He said he then noticed a second plane in Cuban air space. He said he followed the same routine as he did with the first plane, trying first to warn the plane to leave. When the plane did not, he received orders, again, to "interrupt" the flight, then shot it down.
Four pilots with Brothers to the Rescue were killed in the shoot-downs.
Cuba, U.S. at odds over aviation protocol
Cuba's foreign minister, Roberto Robaina, will explain his country's side of the incident during a special session Wednesday of the U.N. General Assembly.
The United States will have the opportunity to respond to Robaina's statements during the General Assembly session.
Also, the Cuban government Tuesday sent a high level delegation to Montreal, Canada, to present evidence it had gathered about the incident to the International Civil Aviation organization. Those presentations are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
Washington insisted upon the special investigation by the U.N. agency.
The main bone of contention is over a 1984 international aviation protocol to the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation.
The United States maintains the planes were shot down over international waters in violation of the protocol, which forbids use of weapons against unarmed civilian planes.
Cuba challenged the U.S. interpretation and issued a statement Tuesday saying that few nations had ratified the 1984 protocol, and that the United States and Cuba were not among them, and that it therefore cannot be considered binding under international law.
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