Bird of Paradox

José Basulto, president of Brothers to the Rescue, is a CIA-trained warrior who insists he supports nonviolent resistance. Complicated? Sí, señor.

"Did you hear yourself say, “We have a MiG around here, hee, hee, hee?' the lawyer asked.

"Yes I did."

"You were gleeful at that moment, weren't you?"

Basulto insists his heralded 1962 shelling 
of the Rosita Hornedo hotel was his last 
act of exile violence
university of miami richter library
Basulto insists his heralded 1962 shelling of the Rosita Hornedo hotel was his last act of exile violence

"No, sir. I was nervous."

McKenna asked Alonso to replay the segment. The "hee, hee, hee" didn't sound nervous.

"Sir," asked McKenna, "you were happy because you were once again in a confrontation with MiGs, weren't you?"

"You are expressing my feelings at the time, and I am telling you I was nervous when I said that."

"But you laughed."

"It wasn't a laugh."

"You said, “Hee, hee, hee.' You don't want it to look like a laugh now, do you?"

Prosecutor John Kastrenakes objected, and Judge Lenard agreed.

The attorney rephrased his question. "While you were saying, “Hee, hee, hee,' you were leading two men to their deaths, weren't you?"

"Objection! Argumentative!" The judge sustained the objection.

Today Brothers to the Rescue owns just two planes, down from four. Basulto estimates that his financial contributors number about 5000. He confirms that the core leadership of the organization consists of just three men: Bill Schuss, Arnaldo Iglesias, and himself. But, he believes, that's an oversimplification. "Let me explain this to you," he said. "Brothers to the Rescue, in reality, is not even me, or Arnaldo Iglesias, or Bill Schuss. It's the community. It's the Cuban-American community plus many other members of other nationalities that provided the means for us to act in their behalf."

Those means came up during the trial when he was asked about the group's funding in the early Nineties as it stepped up its flights to rescue balseros in the Florida Straits. According to the BTTR's 1993 federal tax return, during the peak of the rafter crisis Brothers to the Rescue raised nearly a million dollars. Basulto didn't draw his $60,000 salary from the group's coffers that year, but he did sell his Cessna to the organization for $64,284. By 1995 the BTTR donations had dropped to $326,288, caused in part by the 1994 Clinton administration's repatriation policy. Basulto reduced his salary to about $37,000. The following year donations increased to $376, 817, with most of the difference contributing to his $60,000 salary. (The two other officers, vice president William Schuss and secretary Arnaldo Iglesias, received no salaries, according to the documents.)

New Times requested the BTTR tax forms for the years 1997 through 2000 to complete the picture. "I have nothing to hide," Basulto said in response to the request. For the group's 1999 tax return, the last year available, contributions were $229,249, more than one-fourth of which was consumed by Basulto's salary. "At the present time the organization is just there, like a fire station you have in case there is a fire," Basulto said. "But Brothers to the Rescue is also an attempt to bring about a change in Cuba that would not require Cubans to leave the island in order to be happy, to be free, to realize themselves as human beings."

Basulto was not so forthcoming with regard to his private business dealings. "My personal life is entirely off," he warned. Instead he offered a hint: "I can tell you that last year I paid $50,000 in taxes. And that's not what someone with a $60,000 salary pays." He added that he'd been selling off holdings from an industrial park he built in the early Eighties. "I buy and sell land," he explained.

He wandered off to the other room and returned holding the Brothers to the Rescue plan for a new Cuba. It is a little white booklet, three by four inches, titled For the New Millennium/I am the Change! and outlines six phases of nonviolent opposition -- organization, disobedience, protest, civic abstention, direct civic action, and national encounter -- resulting in the "disintegration of the tyranny" and the taking of power by a "parallel government." And how do the booklets get inside Cuba? Dropped from planes? "No. No, no, no, no, no," he replied. "From Number 7 envelopes."

Undaunted by his possible impact on the trial verdict, Basulto is moving ahead with another mission that has a good chance of backfiring: his campaign to force the U.S. Justice Department to indict Fidel Castro for the deaths of his four compatriots. And yet the effort could gain just enough steam to provoke some unease for President Bush. Radio Mambí has recently begun rallying listeners to sign petitions in support of legal action. The station has been airing a promo for the campaign that uses audiotape released at the trial. The tape memorialized the whoops of the MiG pilot who shot down the two Brothers to the Rescue planes: "We gave it to 'em! We gave it to 'em! Fatherland or death! ¡Cojones!"

Basulto rejects the idea that the campaign is just a morale booster, a symbolic gesture for the already converted exile community. "It's not that symbolic," he said. "It's just a way of telling the president of the United States that there is a united community here that wants justice. We had two airplanes shot down. There were four passengers. Three of them were U.S. citizens. They were murdered. This happened in international airspace, and to this day no indictment has taken place against the participants.

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