News and Facts about Cuba

The Cuban spy who betrayed his Brothers

Posted on Saturday, 10.13.12

The Cuban spy who betrayed his Brothers

The sister of a victim of Cuba's shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue

pilots is unimpressed by Juan Pablo Roque's recent interview.

By Maggie Alejandre Khuly

Why after more than 16 years of silence is Juan Pablo Roque now talking

about the Feb. 24 shoot-down? Roque spoke to Tracey Eaton

from his home in Havana; they talked about the four years that Roque

spent in the United States and his present life in Cuba. They also

discussed the shoot-down by Cuban MiGs of two American civilian aircraft

in 1996.

Roque, a former Cuban MiG pilot, had defected to the United States in

1992. He adapted well to life within Miami's Cuban-American community

and became a member of Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) as a civilian pilot

volunteer in the group's search-and-rescue missions for Cuban .

But the reality was another; Roque was a double-agent working for the

Cuban government. On Feb. 23, 1996, Roque fled the United States to make

his way back to the island. The following day two small, unarmed BTTR

planes were shot down over international waters while looking for Cuban

rafters. Three Americans and one U.S. resident were murdered when their

planes were downed without previous warning, in egregious violation of

international law.

Carlos A. Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario M. de la Peña and Pablo

Morales were killed.

On Feb. 26, Roque went before Cuban television and gave his version of

the shoot-down. He detailed his disenchantment with the United States

and what he described as the anti-Cuban government nature of the Miami

Cuban-American community. The interview confirmed suspicions that

Roque's disappearance was related to the downing, later verified with

his indictment as a member of the Wasp Network (Red Avispa), a Cuban

espionage ring working in the United States and exposed in 1998.

Why did Roque agree to this interview? Does he want to reclaim the

"persona'' that was lost when, as an exposed spy, he was out of a job?

Is he still resentful because the Cuban government apparently would

never trust him to again fly an airplane? Is he, unconvincingly, trying

to mend fences with a community he betrayed?

In the interview Roque provided information on the shoot-down that ties

him even more closely to this crime. His complicity had already become

more obvious through evidence presented at the trial of the five members

of the Wasp Network. Communications between members of the network and

Cuba included warnings to preclude Roque and Wasp member Rene Gonzalez

from flying with BTTR on the 24th, and the warnings were relayed to them.

In the Eaton interview, Roque claims that if he could use a time machine

and reverse events, he would make sure that the four murdered men didn't

fly that day. How could he have done this if he had no knowledge of what

was going to happen? In another part of the interview Roque states that

"those who want to me'' should be able to; charging him in U.S.

courts for the shoot-down would be part of the road to justice.

Roque, however, plays only a part in a complete justice plan for the


Justice has proven elusive and incomplete for various reasons, including

the United States' initial reaction. In February 1996, Ana Belen Montes,

the most senior Cuba analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency,

advised Clinton on the U.S. response to the shoot-down. What

was essentially an international crisis was allowed to become a

bilateral U.S.-Cuba issue. In 2002 Montes pled guilty to spying for Cuba

and is now serving a 25-year sentence in federal ; until the

documents related to her trial and the shoot-down are declassified, we

won't know how much damage she caused.

The civil action that declared the Cuban government and the Cuban Air

Force guilty in the shoot-down is significant in this search for

justice. Options are more limited in criminal courts, where the U.S.

government represents and defends the victims. The Wasp Network

, and the conviction and sentencing of Gerardo Hernández,

however, were very important achievements, as are the existing

indictments for Lorenzo Alberto Perez y Perez and Francisco Perez y

Perez, the pilots who shot down the aircraft, and for Gen. Ruben

Martinez Puente, who directly authorized the shoot-down.

These indictments remain in U.S. courts waiting for the time when

U.S.-Cuba relations allow prosecution here.

But much is missing. Indictments are needed for the many responsible for

the shoot-down in addition to the existing ones for those immediately

and physically involved. Prosecution for all violations

committed against Americans by Cuba should be an integral part of

negotiations when the two countries eventually meet as democratic

societies; the Feb. 24, 1996 shoot-down, among many others, has to be


Nor should justice be derailed by Cuba's international propaganda

machine, now trying to promote a exchange for Alan , being

held hostage in Cuba, or even a pardon, for the five members of the Wasp

Network. Four of the men are currently serving sentences in U.S. prisons

and one is out on parole. There is no equivalency with Gross in this

exchange; the convicted Wasp Network members have had all the advantages

of the U.S. justice system, all the way to the Supreme Court, in

contrast with Gross' inability to defend himself in Cuba.

Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland has affirmed that the

U.S. government has no intentions of entering into an exchange of

Gerardo Hernández and the other four members of the Wasp Network. Any

swap including Hernández would be a travesty of the rule of law and it

is important that there is pressure on elected officials to prevent this.

The shoot-down demands justice not only for Carlos, Armando, Mario and

Pablo, but also for their families, for the community that they were

part of, and for the defense of human rights everywhere. Juan Pablo

Roque's interview and the pain it refreshes should be used not only to

mourn the loss of these four men, but to renew efforts for justice as

the best tribute to their lives.

Khuly, a Miami architect, is the sister of shoot-down victim Armando

Alejandr Jr.

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