U.S. tries to tie espionage case to planes' downing
Charges against alleged Cuban agents may expand
By DAVID KIDWELL
Herald Staff Writer
Federal prosecutors are trying to parlay their case against a ragtag ring
Cuban spies into charges against those responsible for shooting down two Brothers
to the Rescue search planes almost three years ago.
The Feb. 24, 1996, missile attack by Cuban MiGs -- which killed four South
men -- has been the focus of hours of questioning by FBI agents debriefing spies
who have already pleaded guilty and turned government informants, according to
sources close to the case.
And FBI documents show agents baited the alleged spy ringleader into making
comments about how his ``main objective was to work against groups that
continuously threaten the Cuban people . . . that place bombs and set out on
excursions to shoot at the Cuban coast.''
The revelations have fueled speculation among defense attorneys and Cuban
groups that the September arrests of the 10 alleged Cuban spies may have been a
means to an end -- indictments in connection with a case of international murder.
``Really, it's the only thing that makes sense,'' said one attorney close
to the case.
``The U.S. has been watching these folks, and others like them, for more than 30
years, and they never made a case. Instead, they decide to come after these
The new federal action is welcomed by the families of Carlos Costa, Armando
Alejandre, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales, who were killed during the MiG
``The families and lawyers are encouraged and happy there has been reinvigorated
movement,'' said lawyer Francisco Angones, who represents two of the families.
``At least for the first time in a long time there is an interest in the case.''
Federal authorities declined to comment, but sources and newly released
confirm a connection between the two investigations. It includes:
Hours of spy debriefings that focus on the Brothers incident. So far, sources
the confessed spies have had little to offer. They suggest the three alleged top spies
set to stand trial in September -- Manuel Viramontes, Antonio Guerrero and Rene
Gonzalez, who was accused of infiltrating Brothers to the Rescue -- may have more
information. All have pleaded not guilty.
A motion filed Thursday by the defense attorney for alleged spy ringleader
Viramontes asking that statements his client made to the FBI be thrown out because
he made them without a lawyer present.
In the request, attorney Paul McKenna asserts his client was improperly
make comments like he ``was not here to work against [the U.S.] government. His
main objective was to work against groups that continuously threaten the Cuban
people . . . that place bombs and set out on excursions to shoot at the Cuban coast''
and ``the U.S. Government would have shot down the aircrafts long before the
McKenna claims the FBI was trying to ``broaden their investigation and
Viramontes into making statement regarding the downing of the Brothers to the
Rescue plane that could be used against Viramontes at his trial for espionage or in
the bringing of additional charges.''
McKenna would not elaborate.
Evidence of close ties between Gonzalez and Juan Pablo Roque, both accused
infiltrating Brothers to the Rescue. Roque, a former Brothers pilot and FBI informer,
showed up in Havana just days after the tragedy and denounced the organization as
packed with violent provocateurs. Cuban exile groups are convinced that Roque and
Gonzalez were involved in the shoot-down.
Private meetings between families of the dead crewmen, U.S. Attorney Thomas
Scott and newly appointed Miami FBI Special Agent in Charge Hector Pesquera.
Although the lawmen have remained silent on details, they promised the investigation
``Before Scott came into place, nothing seemed to be moving,'' said Maggie
sister of downed Brothers' crewman Armando Alejandre. ``Now things seem to be
happening finally. It's the best news we've had so far, but we've been disappointed
In a Nov. 2 hearing on the alleged spies who have pleaded not guilty, Assistant
U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller said more indictments are expected on the
accused spies. She did not provide specifics, only said the new charges would add
about four days of testimony to the trial.
Miller is the same prosecutor involved in secret debriefings of a Cuban
defected six months after the shoot-down and related tales about how the Cuban
military rehearsed the shootings, then held a party to celebrate the mission.
Five of the alleged spies have already pleaded guilty -- most on charges
to register as agents of a foreign government -- and signed cooperation agreements.
The arrests came 2 1/2 years after Cuban MiG jets shot down two of three
to the Rescue planes, an anti-Castro exile group that routinely flies missions looking
for rafting Cuban refugees.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence King has since ruled that the shootings occurred
international waters ``in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human
Pressure on U.S.
Ever since, families and Cuban exile groups have brought pressure to bear
authorities to indict Cuban leader Fidel Castro and others responsible for the
shootings on charges of murder.
``I'm happily surprised and ecstatic to hear this news,'' said Brothers
to the Rescue
leader Jose Basulto, whose plane escaped the MiG attack. ``But I have to say I am
in a wait-and-see mode. I hope it's true.''
Other exile groups allegedly targeted for infiltration by the spy ring
excitement at the prospect of indictments, but used careful language in
complimenting the actions of U.S. authorities.
``To me, this is a vindication of suspicions the Brothers to the Rescue,
Democracia Movement and other Cuban exile groups have always had,'' said
Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the Democracia Movement. ``If they continue to dig,
I think there will be a lot of surprises. If indeed they do pursue this, it's something we