The Miami Herald
February 16, 2001

Jurors hear tape of Cuban MiG pilot

 The audiotape was the first time since the trial began that the voices of the Cuban
 pilots were heard in court.


 In one of the most dramatic moments of the ongoing Cuban spy trial, jurors on
 Thursday heard the excited voice of a Cuban MiG pilot celebrating the shootdown
 of two Brothers to the Rescue planes five years ago.

 ``We got him, damn it! We got him!'' the pilot yells after shooting down the first
 plane. A few minutes later, after downing the second, he screams: ``The other
 one destroyed! The other one destroyed! Fatherland or death, damn it. The other
 one down, too!''

 Jurors and relatives of the four men killed in the Feb. 24, 1996, shootdown silently
 followed the voice recordings while reading an English- and Spanish-language
 transcript of the audio tape prepared by federal prosecutors.

 Though a brief and silent video of the aftermath of the shootdown was recently
 played for jurors, the audiotape was the first time since the trial began in late
 November that the actual voices of the Cuban pilots were heard in court. The tape,
 made by the U.S. military from intercepts of Cuban military transmissions, was
 originally released shortly after the shootdown.

 The shootdown is the centerpiece of the U.S. government's case against five
 defendants accused of trying to infiltrate Cuban exile organizations and U.S.
 military installations.

 Lead defendant Gerardo Hernández is specifically charged with conspiracy to
 commit murder in connection with the shootdown.

 Prosecutors say Cuban intelligence ordered Hernández to ``facilitate a bloody
 confrontation'' to end Brothers to the Rescue's repeated ``provocation missions''
 into Cuban airspace. Federal authorities say Hernández gave Cuba the flight plan
 of the Brothers planes and then -- after the shootdown -- received a congratulatory
 note saying ``We have dealt the Miami right a hard blow.''

 Three Brothers planes flew out of Opa-locka airport in the early afternoon of Feb.
 24, 1996, to spot Cuban rafters. One plane was piloted by Brothers leader José

 The second was piloted by Mario de la Peña who was assisted by raft spotter
 Armando Alejandre. The third contained pilot Carlos Costa and spotter Pablo

 One MiG pilot shot down both planes. He was not identified in court, but after the
 shootdown, Cuban government radio identified him as Alberto Pérez Pérez in
 command of a MiG-29. He was followed closely by brother Francisco Pérez
 Pérez piloting a MiG-23A. In the tape, the MiG-29 pilot is identified by his call
 sign 08.

 Action leading to the first shootdown begins at around 3:20 p.m. when 08 reports
 sighting the first target: Costa's plane.

 ``Target lock-on, authorize us!'' 08 tells Cuban air traffic control. ``Target lock-on,
 authorize us!''

 A few seconds later he screams: ``It's a Cessna 3-37. That one, that one, that
 one . . .! That's the one! Authorize us, damn it.''

 Seven seconds later, a calm voice is heard.

 ``Fire,'' it says.

 Perhaps unaware of the command, 08 screams again: ``Authorize us, damn it, we
 have it!''

 The calm voice says: ``Zero-eight, authorized to destroy.''

 About a minute later, 08 shouts: ``First shot. We got him damn it! We got him!''
 The cussing and cheering in the MiG's cockpit continued for several minutes.

 ``Cojones, we got him! F-----!'' 08 shouts. ``This one won't f--- around anymore.''

 About seven minutes later, 08 scored another hit, shooting down de la Peña's
 plane. Cussing and cheering followed suit.

 Basulto survived the attack and returned to Opa-locka. A witness in the trial,
 Basulto is planning to fly to the general shootdown area Feb. 24 to mark the
 event's fifth anniversary. While overflying the site, Basulto plans to drop leaflets to
 honor the four people killed in the shootdown.