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by Marlene Victoria Alejandre
On February 24, 1996 two unarmed American civilian Cessnas flying over international waters were blown out of the sky, without warning by two Cuban fighter jets. On those planes were three American citizens and one resident. My father Armando Alejandre was one of the passengers. He was a naturalized American citizen who voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and fought in the Vietnam War. The planes were on a humanitarian search and rescue mission over the Florida Starits looking for rafters fleeing Castro's communist dictatorship. Their purpose was to save the lives of those who would rather thrust themselves into shark-infested waters than be persecuted by the regime in Cuba. At no time did the Cuban planes, which were about 3 times the size of the Cessnas and had all the fighting power possible, ever warn these men that their lives were in danger.
They just flew into international airspace and decided that it would be a just act to disintegrate these two defenseless planes with the push of a button. The small propeller planes never had a chance. As they flew away they exclaimed and cheered joyfully, “we got them in the c-----nes.”
They relished in the fact they had just murdered four innocent men, brothers from their same homeland, something they knew perfectly well. They were delighted at the thought of having ended the lives of four men who posed no danger or threat to them. They took pride in the fact that they killed my father and changed me for the rest of my life.
I have listened to the recording of the terrorist act from the control tower in Opalocka Airport in Florida. I used to cry each time the second silence indicated that my father’s plane had been destroyed and he along with it. I haven’t heard it in a very long time but I remember that the last time I heard it the only emotion I felt was anger and frustration.
Today I feel that same pain when I see the way people are responding to the Elian Gonzalez story. Some feel the way I do that he should have the opportunity to live a free life, others feel the opposite and others are just sick of it and find it to be a good punch line. I can’t comprehend how any one could want this boy to go back to the repressive life human beings lead in Castro's Cuba. In Cuba they aren’t even considered that. Cuba is year after year denounced as one of the world’s biggest leaders in Human rights violations, most of them murder and imprisonment without cause. They are on the U.S. list of terrorist nations along with Libya and Iran and 4 others.
They do not allow people the basic right to speak their minds which we in this country take for granted. Can you imagine if you said a joke about Clinton in public and the police just walked right up to you, beat you and took you to prison for an undetermined period of time. Sadly this is something that happens in Cuba all the time. People are stolen out of their homes in the middle of the night for having different political views than the government’s and their families never see them again. Their families are kept under surveillance and persecuted by Castro’s thugs day in and day out. Children are indoctrinated into communism from the beginning. In the U.S., I have never seen a 6-year old chanting political views and banter but I have heard small Cuban children put up on podiums screaming “Long live the Revolution”.
My father fought to bring democracy to Cuba. He was a political activist, best known by the elderly Cubans who could not believe the love and passion my father had for the country he left at the age of ten. My father loved the U.S. more than any other country. The U.S. gave him the freedom and respect for humanity he believed all people should be allowed. What drove my father the most was the oppression and abuse of the Cuban people who remained on the island by Castro and his agents. I understood none of this until the day these same people took him away from me.
My father was the funniest, most intelligent, generous and caring man I have ever known. He gave to everyone, friends and strangers alike, even when he did not have enough for himself. I was his only child and his only little girl. The day he died I was away at school and didn’t even know he was going up the air. It was only his second trip. The Brothers to the Rescue normally rejected him b/c he took up too much room on the planes, he was 6 feet and 7 inches tall. Luckily I had seen him the weekend before, I thank God for that. I couldn’t believe it when my best friend sat me down and said my father had been shot down in a plane and they didn’t know what happened to him. I didn’t know what to feel or what to think. That night I did not sleep and arrived in Miami ht next day with my eyes so swollen I could barely see. I figured they would find him floating in the ocean it was only a matter of time. That afternoon I went to a briefing with the Coast Guard with some of my family, my mother couldn’t even leave my house from the shock. The men said they would continue searching until that evening but they were pretty sure they would find nothing. They had only found a bright orange marker, a device fighter jets drop into the ocean to mark where their target falls.
I learned a missile was used and it was so powerful it just disintegrated everything upon impact. After I was taken to a church in Miami that is the spiritual center for Cubans living here, La Ermita de la Caridad, the patron saint of Cuba. I had never seen so many people in my life. They were inside, outside, screaming, crying, some even carrying pictures of my father. I knew that was it, he was gone, but I had no idea what I was in for. That was the day my life was turned upside down and I was changed forever.
I now knew why my father felt he way he did about Cuba. I finally experienced what so many before me had at the hands of Fidel Castro. I now knew what it took to have that emotion and passion inside of you. I now knew what drove people to cry when they sang Cuba’s national anthem. I learned it and cry when I sing it too. There is a line from it which says, “Morir por la Patria es vivir.” This means, “to die for one’s country is to live”, this was enscribed on the remembrance cards that were handed out at the funeral to the guests. At least I know that is true. My father died in the most honorable way possible to man, dying to save your homeland. The men who killed him are the cowards who had to use the power of guns to fight a message of hope and love.
The very day of my father’s funeral I testified before Congress, a couple months later I went to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva to speak out on the atrocity which had been committed. I faced the very men who are part of CastroAEs government. I sat in room 5 feet away from them, they knew who I was. I was the 18-year-old daughter whose father they murdered in cold blood. They looked at me and said things about us. Whenever they stared at me I stared right back. They were always hanging around. They tried to scare me, it didn’t work. My dad was with me and he wouldn’t let them hurt me. These were people I had been warned about, they used to carry guns into the Human Rights Commission. I was not scared, I was there to let the world know what they had done and that they had to be stopped. Since then every major international organization and Congress has declared the act a terrorist act and denounced the government of Cuba for its blatant murder of American citizens in international waters. The only organization which has not done so, has been the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton shook my hand on two occasions and pitied me, or so I thought. He told us this would not go unpunished, this murder of American citizens was unforgiveable. Today he is the only thing standing in the way of justice for my father’s murder.
There is an ongoing investigation by the FBI, only they can file criminal charges. The government passed a law which allows the families of American citizens murdered by terrorist countries to file a civil suit against that nation. We won, Cuba never even came to its defense. The judge found the act so horrific he tripled the punitive damages we had originally asked for. When the collection of the judgement began, Cuba finally got involved. They only cared when it came down to their money. We got them where we knew it would hurt.
Still today we have not been able to collect and punish the perpetrators of this crime.
I’ve had to endure many things since my father’s death. I have even had to sit in a courtroom with my own government at the table opposite me, fighting for Cuba’s money. It hurts when I see the country my father risked his life for at 18 years old, fighting to protect the people who killed him and three other innocent men. All we want is justice for our loss. No amount of money , not even the punishment of those directly responsible will fix what happened. I no longer have the person who I made my world a better place to live in. He made my life funnier, he made me smarter he was the only man in mine and my mother’s lives. I feel like my life will never reach the potential it was supposed to. I will never be what I was supposed to be because he is not here to help me get there.
My aunts have lost their brother, my cousins their uncle, and my grandparents their only son. Others were robbed of the chance to meet him and learn how just knowing him made life a little better. My children will never meet him. I will walk down the aisle at my wedding alone. Worst of all, my mother is alone, her soul mate gone. Fidel Castro’s dictatorship did all this to one family. Now multiply that by millions and you may begin to see a glimpse of the damage he has done since he robbed Cuba from its people 41 years ago.
I write all this and maybe go on too long because the things I have to say are endless. This is something that helps me to cope with the fact that I have not seen my father in over 4 years. If just one person realizes by reading this letter s that Castro, who sits only 90 miles away, is this evil and cruel, calculating and manipulative, murderous and callous. He does not care about Elian and Juan Miguel. He will take Elian and turn him into a puppet of the revolution. He will force Elian to denounce his mother and the U.S. This is because he despises America and the freedom it stands for. It hurts me to see Americans who visit Cuba and defend Castro, when he is all the while laughing at the fact that those he considers enemies are praising him. If you believe his father is speaking freely, you need to know that since Juan Miguel came to this country the rest of his family has been under house arrest in an undisclosed location by the Cuban government.
This is what Elian Gonzalez is going back to. If you want to blind yourself to the truth so be it, but realize you are doing it at the expense of a little boy.
P.S. Lastly, please do not ridicule Cuban-Americans for demonstrating. Other groups have done far worse things to get their point across. Don't tell them to get over it as I have heard some say. The wounds are still raw, it has only been 40 years. Would you say the same to the people in South Carolina who are fighting to remove what they believe is a symbol of hatred from over so many more years ago?