“A Slap in the Face”: Pilots’ Families Balk at Cuban Prisoner Swap
The South Florida families of pilots fatally shot down by Cuba in 1996 are speaking out against the Wednesday release of three members of the convicted spies known as the “Cuban Five” in a prisoner swap — among them one who had been convicted of conspiracy to commit murder over the shootdown.
“For the only person that we had responsible for what happened to be let go — it’s a slap in the face to my dad,” Marlene Alejandre-Triana said at a news conference.
Alejandre-Triana’s father Armando Alejandre, a Vietnam veteran, was one of four pilots killed when Cuban MiGs shot down their two small, private planes in February 1996 in international waters off Cuba’s northern coast. They had been flying missions for Brothers to the Rescue, an exile organization that sought to aid migrants at sea and also dropped propaganda leaflets.
One of the agents known as the “Cuban Five,” Gerardo Hernandez, had been serving a life sentence on a murder conspiracy conviction in the shoot-down.
He and two other members of the Cuban Five — Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero — were released Wednesday as part of the prisoner swap and flown back to their homeland, ending what their appeals lawyer called “an arduous experience.”
The families of the pilots said they were given no warning of the release.
“We simply cannot understand how this could have happened, especially in the case of Gerardo Hernandez. This was the only modicum of justice we had,” said Maggie Alejandre-Khuly, sister of one of the pilots who was killed.
The Cuban Five were all convicted in 2001 of being unregistered foreign agents, and three also were found guilty of espionage conspiracy for failed efforts to obtain military secrets from the U.S. Southern Command headquarters. Hernandez, meanwhile, had been serving two life sentences plus 15 years on a murder conspiracy conviction stemming from the Cuban air force’s 1996 shoot-down.
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