Film: Shootdown

President Bush didn’t mention Blanca Gonzalez, the mother of jailed Cuban dissident Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, after all. But the film Shootdown, which I also mentioned in the same post yesterday, is Michael Moynihan at Reason today. The film profiles the blowing out of the sky by Cuban air force MiGs of two planes from the Brothers to the Rescue operation.

An event soon overshadowed by the saga of Elian Gonzales, the attack on the unarmed Brothers to the Rescue planes is now largely forgotten outside Miami. And despite the smokescreen of misinformation presented by Castro and his foreign enablers, the facts of the story are rather straightforward and grimly characteristic of a totalitarian regime.

As three Brothers to the Rescue planes approached Cuban territory, the lead plane, piloted by the group’s founder Jose Basulto, briefly breached Cuban airspace. While the planes were searching for refugees in the water, officials in Havana, tipped off by a mole in the Brothers leadership, scrambled Soviet-made MiG fighter planes to knock the planes out of the sky. Basulto’s plane managed to escape. When the other two were vaporized by Cuban missiles, both were flying over international waters.

The mole, former Cuban Air Force MiG pilot Juan Pablo Roque, is a chilling reminder of the Stasi-like tactics of the Cuban secret police. Roque infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue by insinuating himself into the exile community—going so far as to write a book for the Cuban American National Foundation detailing his escape from the island—and marrying a local woman as cover. The day before the deadly flight, Roque declined an invitation to participate in the mission and informed his wife that he would be away on business. A day later, he reappeared on Cuban state television to denounce the Brothers as “terrorists” of the empire.

The Fidel Castro death watch may have begun, but for a country brutalized under such a regime, transition to democracy is bound to be difficult — and messy. Here’s hoping it involves no more loss of life.