1996: A deadly weekend for US citizens over international waters

In Miami, and other Cuban American communities across the U.S., we will remember this weekend the anniversary of the shooting of four Cuban-Americans over the Florida Straits.  It happened in 1996:

Two small planes operated by a Cuban-American group were shot down by Cuban fighters over the waters north of Havana and the four people on board were missing, President Clinton and the U.S. Coast Guard said Saturday.

Clinton said he had been briefed on "the shooting down Saturday in broad daylight of two American civilian airplanes by Cuban military aircraft."

"I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms," Clinton told reporters in Seattle, Washington.

The two planes with four people on board were twin-engine Cessna aircraft operated by the group "Brothers to the Rescue," a Miami-based group of Cuban exiles funded by private donations. The group has flown hundreds of missions to spot Cuban rafters attempting to flee their island nations.

Group founder Jose Basulto was on a third plane that escaped the gunfire and returned to Miami.

Basulto said all three planes had radioed Cuban air traffic controllers to identify themselves and report their intentions to search international waters for Cuban refugees who may be on rafts.

Basulto described seeing two Cuban MiG fighters approach them while they were at least 20 miles north of the Cuban coast, 8 miles into international waters. Shortly after that, he lost radio contact with the other two Cessnas.

"I kept calling them both and heard no answer," Basulto said. "At that time we decided to proceed north and go into the clouds for cover, because we feared that something dreadful had happened."

In response, President Clinton:

... pledged Monday to work with Congress to pass the so-called Helms-Burton legislation which would tighten the existing U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The president said he would ask Congress to permit him to use some of the approximately $100 million in frozen Cuban assets in the U.S. to compensate the families of the four missing Cuban-American pilots and crew members.

Clinton also announced additional punitive measures, among them:

tighter restrictions on the movement of Cuban officials in the United States; efforts to increase funding to help the U.S. government's Radio Marti overcome Cuba's jamming of its broadcasts; suspension of all commercial charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

This incident was a low point in U.S.-Cuba relations.  The U.S.-registered aircraft were destroyed while looking for rafters in international waters.  Cuba had no reason to shoot down planes on a humanitarian mission.   

Furthermore, Cuba has never taken responsibility for this lawless action.    

Nevertheless, a U.S. flag now flies in Cuba, not far from where dissidents continue to be arrested.    

And no one reminded President Obama that Cuba has never fulfilled the requirements that the U.S. Congress imposed after the shooting.  Then again, did he ever care about the law?

What happens when a hostile country shoots U.S. citizens on a humanitarian mission?  I guess you re-establish relations and don't demand accountability.

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