Families of Murdered Americans on Obama's Prisoner Exchange

Friday, December 19, 2014

Families of Brothers to the Rescue victims criticize US-Cuba accord

Amid the mixed emotions that welcomed the announcement of a restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba Wednesday, several families affected by the prisoner exchange that made the historic accord possible voiced their stern disapproval.

The families of four men killed during a mission for the Miami-based activist nonprofit organization Brothers to the Rescue in 1996 spoke with reporters at the Biltmore Hotel. They called President Barack Obama's decision to release three of the members of the "Cuban Five," five Cuban men convicted of spying on the U.S. government, in exchange for American government contract worker Alan Gross an insult to the U.S. justice system.

"First, I want to say that I'm so happy that Alan Gross will be able to spend Hanukkah with his two daughters, 'cause I'll never have that again with my father," said Marelene Alejandre Triana, who was only 18 when her father, Armando Alejandre Jr., one of the four men on board Cessna Skymasters that had taken off from Opa-locka Airport on Feb. 24, 1996, was shot down over international waters.

One of those spies released this week, Gerardo Hernandez, was serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy for his role in the killings of the Brothers to the Rescue victims. "The only person that we had responsible for what happened, to be let go, it's a slap in the face to my dad," said Alejandre Triana.

The two other Cuban Five prisoners had been released earlier.

The flights, which started after a need to help provide humanitarian aid for people fleeing Cuba on rafts, also claimed the lives of Mario De La Pena, Pablo Morales and Carlos Costa.

Relatives of the four victims were seen hugging U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who was there in support of the families. Their biggest complaint: that they were not contacted by the Obama administration to prepare them for the news. "Everybody knows everyone's phone numbers here, and any way to call, e-mail, anything, and nothing was done," said Alejandre Triana.

"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.