Jose Basulto’s response to Shootdown

Ziva just sent us this and I think it is important that the response of one of the participants on that tragic day be heard. Here is Jose Basulto’s response, verbatim, from the file I received:

We must credit Christina Khuly Eger for the notable improvements in her film, Shoot Down, which opened last week in select theaters in South Florida and nationwide. Although the documentary rings truer than the original version, it continues to omit relevant information pertaining to Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR). More importantly, it leaves the viewer with an erroneous impression of some of the facts surrounding February 24, 1996.
The spokesperson for Shoot Down is Maggie Khuly, mother of director Christina Khuly Eger and sister of Armando Alejandre, Jr., one of the victims. Another figure prominently featured in the film is Richard Nuccio, the former head of Cuban Affairs at the U.S. State Department. Several of their statements demand rectification.
One of the most erroneous parts of the movie is Maggie Khuly’s affirmation that several of the exile organizations had asked BTTR not to fly on February 24. This is completely false.
Mrs. Khuly had never participated in BTTR’s activities or as a member of the organizations that supported Concilio Cubano, a coalition of dissident groups planning an unprecedented meeting on this historic day in Havana. Armando Alejandre, Jr., her brother, was one of seven individuals chosen by our exile organizations to coordinate efforts in support for Concilio Cubano. He wanted BTTR to fly on February 24 and he wanted to be part of that flight. Sadly, although he had flown with us weeks before as a volunteer on a humanitarian mission to help provide basic needs for fellow refugees at Nassau’s detention center, the day of the shoot down was his first – and only – search and rescue mission in the Straits of Florida.
Alejandre was dedicated to the non-violent struggle we adhered to at BTTR against the Castro dictatorship. He was a man of action, not words; he was a true hero, committed to help bring about freedom and democracy to the oppressed Cuban people. If BTTR was asked not to fly that day why would Alejandre have flown with BTTR against the wishes of Concilio Cubano which he represented in exile?
The evening of Friday, February 23, 1996, various exile groups met at the Hyatt Hotel in Coral Gables where a support and information center for Concilio Cubano was operating. At the Hyatt meeting, Alejandre passed on to Sylvia Iriondo (the head of Mothers Against Repression, MAR por Cuba, and one of the survivors on my plane) who was sitting next to me, a note asking her to tell me on his behalf that BTTR should fly a humanitarian search and rescue mission to the Straits of Florida the following morning and that he wanted to be a part of it. Mrs. Iriondo showed Armando’s note to me.
If Cuban exile organizations had warned, asked, pleaded or even suggested that BTTR not fly the next morning, would it have made sense that both Mr. Alejandre, as a leading member of Concilio Cubano’s coordinating group in exile, and Mrs. Iriondo, as head of one of the organizations actively supporting Concilio Cubano, place thenselves against their wishes and fly with us that day? NO such wishes were ever expressed. Shortly after the meeting, it was agreed that BTTR would fly a routine search and rescue mission in the Straits of Florida on February 24, 1996. The exile groups never asked us to cancel our mission for that day.
After the shoot down and upon our return to the hangar at Opa Locka, Mrs. Iriondo gave that note to Armando Alejandre, Sr., as a testimonial to his son’s desire to fly with us that day. The Alejandre family has never mentioned this note and the film makes no mention of it.
The second most egregious part of the movie is that BTTR was warned that the Cubans intended to shoot us down. No one in the U.S. government warned us about the impending shoot down, neither that day nor any other day. We reaffirm: at no time was any official warning given to us in the form of a letter, fax, telegram, telephone call, radio transmission, email, personal communication or any other form of communication that there was any real threat or additional peril for flying on February 24, 1996. If there was such a warning why is that person not interviewed or the letter, e-mail, etc. shown in the film?
Another addition to the first version of the documentary includes the recorded voice of Raul Castro issuing orders for a shoot down whenever and wherever possible, preferring that it not take place over land. We understand that the families of Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, and Mario de la Peña had been given a copy of this recording by a Spanish activist before the original documentary was released. When asked why Brothers to the Rescue and Eva Barbas (mother of murdered pilot Pablo Morales) were never given a copy of this tape, the families’ attorney responded that the tape had been turned over to the FBI. The FBI denies ever receiving it and the attorney never followed up with the FBI. We feel this tape should have been made public years ago.
The film does, however briefly, touch on what we have been stating from the beginning: the events of February 24, 1996 were allowed to happen as a result of the lack of response (and/or complicity) of the Clinton administration. Major Jeffrey Houlihan saw the MiGs on his radar screen and made the equivalent of a 911 call to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. They stoically replied, “We’re handling it. Don’t worry”. Fighter jets on the runway in Homestead were told to “stand down”; that is: do not take off while the air force bases watched the persecution and shoot down of our planes for 53 minutes. Yet when the BTTR planes were not in the air that very morning and MiGs had been deployed, the Homestead fighter pilots were scrambled.
There was a protocol in place that had been used numerous times whenever MiGs were spotted. BTTR pilots were radioed; the BTTR base was informed; and interceptors were scrambled. No one – not one of the many agencies that were monitoring our flights that day – called to inform us we were being hunted down. Radar control stations were making screen prints and print-outs; an Orion intelligence aircraft was monitoring; and the U.S. government was watching. No one called Brothers to the Rescue. Even after the first two planes were downed, no one informed us, the lone survivors, that we were being chased by a second group of MiGs.
Nuccio’s statements also require rectification. I was a licensed pilot the day of the shoot down. It wasn’t until later, to appease the Cuban government, that my license was revoked.
It is inconceivable that Nuccio lays the blame on me for the horrendous crime that was committed that day. The Miami Herald reviewer Marta Barber in her movie review of January 25th, 2008 repeats the uncontested false statements Nuccio makes at the end of the film as fact. It is ironic that Nuccio asks me to apologize to the Cuban government for the murder of three American citizens and one legal resident over international waters, as determined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the United Nations, while flying civilian aircraft on a humanitarian mission. We invite Nuccio to apologize to the four families for remaining silent when he could have prevented the shoot down.
Shoot Down is a documentary worth seeing only to reaffirm that truth and justice are yet to be attained.
José J. Basulto
President, Brothers to the Rescue
N2506 Pilot (Survivor)

12 thoughts on “Jose Basulto’s response to <i>Shootdown</i>”

  1. More damning than Maggie Khuly’s assertion that exile organizations begged Basulto not to fly that day is something Mr. Basulto fails to address directly – that the US gov’t officials begged him not to and tried to obstruct him from flying that day.
    What Basulto says, using some rhetorical gymnastics is that no one told them that they would be shot down. Well, if I recall the film correctly Nuccio never said he knew or thought the planes would be shot down so of course he would not have told him that. What Nuccio made clear was that flying on Feb 24 was a bad idea and that this was communicated to Mr. Basulto via phone. What bothered Mrs. Khuly was that she did not feel that these concerns were passsed on to those participating in the flight.
    I do not pretend to know when Mr. Basulto’s license was revoked but Nuccio stated clearly that Basulto did have a license to fly the day of the shoot down because he had filed an appeal. I hope someone, somewhere can look this up to see who is being less than truthful on this. Mr. Basulto fails to clarify this with his statement. As to the motivation behind it, whether to appease the Cuban govt or perhaps stop a slightly delustional or irresponsible person from setting off a shooting war, we can only guess.
    Basulto is rightly outraged that nothing was done by the USAF to protect him and his fellow pilots on the day of the incident. While he does recite a protocol that he mentioned in the documentary it is one that is not repeated by either Nuccio nor Gen. Sheehan. In fact Gen. Sheehan makes it abundantly clear why nothing was in fact done – a lack of rules of engagement. Without ROE the military will not act – Gen Sheehan makes this point explicitly – maybe Basulto missed it.
    Basulto goes off on a tangent upset that he did not get the Castro recording. So what? Why does Ms. Khuly have to provide him with it? She is under no legal obligation to do so. Let’s be honest if she would have done so, Basulto would have called a press conference and held the usual dog an pony show for the local media. It would have made Ms. Khuly appear to be nothing more than a stooge for the loony hardliners of Miami.
    As Maggie Khuly says in the doc – this is not to say that what happened was Basulto’s fault – it is the fault of the murderous Castro regime. That being said, the situation could have been averted if Basulto would have been more careful.
    Shoot Down is an excellent, compelling documentary. It’s even-handed narrative will serve our community better than any one-sided piece of propoganda that Mr. Basulto would have preferred to have seen.

  2. I love how Basulto signs off as (Survivor). It’s not like they shot at him. If they would have he would not be here today. He is only alive because the Cubans let him live. He talks of being chased by MiGs….puhhhhlease. Chased? That’s like me chasing an ant. If they wanted to chase him they would have. If they wanted to knock him down, they would have. Am I supposed to believe that between two Cuban MiGs there were only to air to air rockets? The biggest question of all in this is why did they let Basulto live, knowing full well which plane he was in? Knocking down three instead of two planes would not have made a difference

  3. Far too often in these things, the important point gets lost in minutia. Here, the important point is that the castro government murdered four people who were flying civilian aircraft in international air space. Murder.

  4. i agree totally with Paxety,the point is that the castro regime shot down civilians aircrafts in international waters,and THAT’S A CRIME…
    it’s so hard to understand that….???

  5. I wonder if people who more or less blame the victims in this case would also say a woman who dresses “provocatively” deserves to be raped, or a rude driver deserves to be deliberately blindsided and maimed, or a thoughtless jaywalker deserves to be run over, or someone who acts like an asshole or a bitch deserves to be shot for being offensive.
    It’s easy to criticize in retrospect, and anyone who puts more emphasis on the supposed, presumed or apparent fault of BTTR or any exile entity than on the overwhelming murderous evil that killed those four men is immediately disqualified from serious consideration, in my opinion. Let’s keep things squarely in perspective, and not miss the forest for the trees. There was absolutely no valid excuse for what happened. None. It was simply murder. Period.

  6. As Basulto correctly asserts, the U.S. government was aware enough of the danger that they were taking screen captures of the radar screens to document everything. Yet at the same time they grounded the fighters that might have deterred the Cuban MiGs from firing on the civilian aircraft. Something is not smelling so good. As we later found out on 9/11 this country’s air defenses were surprisingly porous. Anybody that reads the official 9/11 report and sees this film will be angry that 5 years before the terrorist attacks, we had a pair of MiGs from a hostile country heading toward the U.S. with no counter force to engage them. If Castro wanted to drop a bomb on Miami he could do it.

  7. As Basulto correctly asserts, the U.S. government was aware enough of the danger that they were taking screen captures of the radar screens to document everything. Yet at the same time they grounded the fighters that might have deterred the Cuban MiGs from firing on the civilian aircraft. Something is not smelling so good. As we later found out on 9/11 this country’s air defenses were surprisingly porous. Anybody that reads the official 9/11 report and sees this film will be angry that 5 years before the terrorist attacks, we had a pair of MiGs from a hostile country heading toward the U.S. with no counter force to engage them. If Castro wanted to drop a bomb on Miami he could do it.

  8. Basulto is an honorable man that has done more for the cause of a free Cuba than most of us. Nuccio and Sheehan were employees of the U.S. government, and as such have to abide by very clear rules on what they say, even after their employment is terminated. Enough said.

  9. I went through some of the raw source materials linked from the Shoot Down and BTTR web sites last year. I wished the documentary would have included the MiG’s failure to bring down the third plane.
    Take note, “Cardinal,” the MiGs overshot Basulto’s plane and in sworn testimony it was characterized by Houlihan as amateur hour. If US airmen were tasked with shooting down civilian planes there’s no doubt there’d be no survivors to complain about a documentary. Thankfully we live in a system not only different but unequaled.

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