One of the features of Obama’s unilateral decision to skirt federal law and expand diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba was that, along with a clutch of spies, he released a convicted murderer.
On February 24, 1996, three unarmed private aircraft piloted by men belong to the anti-Castro humanitarian group, Brothers to the Rescue, were making a routine flight outside Cuban territorial waters and airspace searching for Cubans fleeing from the Castro regime. They were bounced by a pair of Cuban MiGs and two of the aircraft were shot down killing Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales. The third aircraft escaped. As it turned out, the group had been infiltrated (surprise! surprise!) by Cuban intelligence and the timing and route of the flight was betrayed. This seems to have prodded the flaccid Clinton era FBI into action and in 1998 they broke up a spy ring, the Wasp Network, which had run the infiltration operation. All five were sentenced to long prison terms but one of them, Gerardo Hernández, was tried and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with his involvement with the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Yesterday Hernández and the two co-conspirators remaining in US custody were exchanged for one imprisoned US intelligence asset and one American who had been held hostage for five years. The families of the men Hernández helped murder were not happy:
“I’d like to say that, not only do I feel that I’ve been slapped in the face by a president. I feel that the justice system of the United States of America today has suffered a big blow,” said Miriam De La Pena, the mother of Mario De La Pena, as she fought back tears.
José Basulto, the founder of Brothers to the Rescue, described Obama’s actions as government overreach. “Obama has elected himself as the new king of America, and he feels free to take any type of actions, even if he has to [bypass] the justice system of the United States,” he said.
“The President Barack Obama’s concessions, it’s sending the wrong message to the free world and to the world that terrorists can get away with murder,” said Cuban-American leader Sylvia Iriondo.
For Alejandre Triana, the relaxing of restrictions is especially painful because her father fought for the U.S. in Vietnam. “To me, it’s just a dishonor to my father’s memory, to every soldier that goes and does anything, that this can happen, that there’s no respect,” she said.
All of this goes to highlight simply how unevenly balanced the entire deal was. Cuba got what it has been wanting for 50 years, free and unfettered access to Western cash, markets and capital. It got back five of its agents. We got… I’m not sure what we got other than screwed.