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U.S. Department of State
96/03/06: Statement-Cuban Air Attack (Amb. Albright)
FOR RELEASE ON DELIVERY USUN PRESS RELEASE
MARCH 6, 1996
Statement of Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright
United Nations General Assembly
March 6, 1996
I have listened with care to the presentation of the
Cuban Foreign Minister.
I have listened with care for an apology for the
breaking of international law; [for an expression of
regret at the death of four young men;] for an offer
to compensate the families; and for a promise in the
future to comply with the obligations by which all
nations must live.
I have listened in vain.
Mr. President, the United States did not, and does
not, seek a confrontation with Cuba. My government,
and its people, wish with all our hearts that this
tragic incident had not occurred. But we cannot be
silent when our citizens are murdered; and we will not
allow the Cuban Government, which ordered this crime,
to transfer blame to the victims
Last week, in the Security Council, we listened to the
permanent representative from Cuba explain his
government's view. The United States waived normal
visa requirements to allow the Cuban Foreign Minister
to travel promptly to New York. And as President of
the Security Council, I offered him an opportunity to
speak to that body as soon as he arrived in New York.
He declined that offer. Now, we have this statement.
Unfortunately, all we have heard from the Cuban
Government thus far is propaganda, not fact.
The fact is that, on February 24, the Cuban military
knowingly, willfully, and in broad daylight, shot down
two aircraft that were unarmed and clearly marked as
civilian. As Cuban officials were well aware, those
aircraft posed no threat to the Cuban people or
government. The aircraft were in international
airspace. And they were destroyed intentionally and
in clear violation of international law.
Although Cuba would like to obscure the issue, the
question of legality is not obscure, but plain.
Cuba's shootdown of these aircraft violated the
prohibition under customary international law against
the use of weapons in these circumstances against
civil aircraft in flight. This prohibition is
longstanding and does not depend on whether Chicago
Convention Article 3 (bis) is in force.
That is why all fifteen members of the Security
Council joined in declaring these airborne murders an
international crime. And it is why the Council's
statement has been echoed by so many other countries
from around the world.
As we speak, this incident is being discussed before
the International Civil Aviation Organization. My
government looks forward to the investigation to be
conducted by that organization. We will cooperate
fully with it, and we call upon the Cuban Government
to do the same.
Mr. President, behind the smokescreen of rhetoric
offered by the Cuban government regarding this
incident is a simple matter of right and wrong, of
what is legal and what is not.
The only warning provided these aircraft came from the
Havana civilian air traffic controller as the planes
approached the 24th parallel, roughly midway between
Florida and Cuba. The Havana center informed the
pilots only that they would be in "danger" if they
operated in an active military warning area south of
the 24th parallel -- but still within international
air space. The MIG fighters that shot the planes down
never attempted to establish radio contact; the
fighters did not approach or signal the planes to
land; no warning shots were fired; no warning was
given to the U.S. aircraft that an attack was imminent.
Indeed, the transcript of conversation between the
Cuban pilots and their base establish that their only
intent was to shoot these small, unarmed aircraft
down. One of the pilots even stated, "if we give it a
pass, it will complicate things."
Mr. President, in his statement, the Cuban Minister
makes reference to earlier flights by the group
"Brothers to the Rescue" that have entered Cuban
airspace. Cuban complaints regarding these flights
were being handled by the United States in a manner
consistent with the Chicago Convention.
We took this matter seriously because we did not want
an international incident to occur. But never in any
of our diplomatic exchanges with Cuba on this subject
did the Cuban government allege that Brothers to the
Rescue was a terrorist organization or was planning
acts of terrorist violence. And we consistently
pointed out to Cuban officials that, while we did not
sponsor the group's activities, we had been assured of
its peaceful intentions.
Last Saturday, in Miami, I had the opportunity to meet
with the families of the four men who were
killed--Mario de la Pena, Pablo Morales, Carlos Costa
and Armando Alejandre. I had the opportunity to talk
to their parents and other family members. And I had
the opportunity to ask the mothers of these young men
about their sons.
What they told me is consistent with the objective
record. These were men filled not with bitterness and
hate, but with concern for the survival of those who
might be tempted, like they had been tempted, to flee
Cuba's despotic regime. They were peaceful, not
It is preposterous to believe, as the Cuban
representative would have us do, that the young men in
those unarmed planes were enemies of the Cuban people.
On the contrary, in their love of freedom, and of
their native land, they exemplified the Cuban people.
Perhaps that is why they so closely reflected, in
their lives and in their deaths, the words of Jose
(That) like bones to the human body, the axle to the
wheel, the wing to the bird and the air to the wing,
so is liberty the essence of life.
Mr. President, the fundamental issue at stake here is
not complicated. It is not a question about which
there can be two competing co-equal arguments. It is
not a political question. It is a question of whether
it was acceptable for Cuba to shoot down these two
unarmed civilian aircraft. My government submits that
this action was wrong, that it was a blatant violation
of international law, and that it should be denounced
as such by all members of the international community.
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