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.
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
In one of the most dramatic moments of the ongoing Cuban spy trial,
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,
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
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
defendants accused of trying to infiltrate Cuban exile organizations and U.S.
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
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.
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
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.