Two Civilian Planes Shot Down over Cuba: President Clinton Ponders Military Action

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NBC Nightly News
Tom Brokaw/Brian Williams/Ed Rabel
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NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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President Clinton is cautious in his response after two civilian airplanes from an American humanitarian group are shot down by Cuban Air Force jets.



"Two Civilian Planes Shot Down over Cuba: President Clinton Ponders Military Action." Brian Williams, Ed Rabel, correspondent. NBC Nightly News. NBCUniversal Media. 26 Feb. 1996. NBC Learn. Web. 15 July 2017.


Williams, B. (Reporter), & Rabel, E. (Reporter), & Brokaw, T. (Anchor). (1996, February 26). Two Civilian Planes Shot Down over Cuba: President Clinton Ponders Military Action. [Television series episode]. NBC Nightly News. Retrieved from


"Two Civilian Planes Shot Down over Cuba: President Clinton Ponders Military Action" NBC Nightly News, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 02/26/1996. Accessed Sat Jul 15 2017 from NBC Learn:


Two Civilian Planes Shot Down over Cuba: President Clinton Ponders Military Action

TOM BROKAW, anchor:

Good evening. President Clinton late today announced a series of moves against Cuba for the shooting down of two light planes, but he stopped well short of ordering any military action against Fidel Castro. Those planes, from the Miami exile organization called Brothers to the Rescue, were on a propaganda mission to Cuba--not for the first time- when they were shot down Saturday by Cuban MiGs. We have two reports tonight from Washington and also from Havana. We begin with NBC's Brian Williams at the White House.


Condemning Cuba for killing civilian pilots, the president, late today, promised retaliation.

President BILL CLINTON: We must be clear. This shooting of civilian aircraft out of the air was a flagrant violation of international law. It is wrong, and the United States will not tolerate it.

WILLIAMS: All morning long, advisers arrived at the White House to go over the options. The president decided on US retaliation, starting with the United Nation's Security Council statement condemning the attack and compensation for the victim's families; restricting the movement of some Cubans, mostly diplomats, within the United States; suspending all commercial charter flights between the US and Cuba; backing most provisions of a bill in Congress designed to seal off foreign investment in Cuba.

Pres. CLINTON: Saturday's attack was an appalling reminder of the nature of the Cuban regime: repressive, violent, scornful of international law.

WILLIAMS: It started sometime before 2 PM Saturday when three small

Cessna Skymaster aircraft took off from Opa-Locka Airport near Miami. At 2:57, one of the pilots from the group Brothers to the Rescue tells the control tower in Havana of their intention to fly into airspace south of the 24th parallel. The pilot is warned of possible danger, and at 3:09, two Cuban military jets are airborne. At 3:24, the two MiGs receive permission to destroy. The two small planes are shot down within seven minutes of each other. Cuba insists the planes were within its airspace. The US does not agree.

Last August, the US government warned travelers of Cuba's threat that any boat from abroad can be sunk and any airplane downed. The State Department said it takes this statement seriously. The actions announced by the president today don't come near what some say is required to send Fidel Castro a stronger message.

Mr. JORGE MAS-CANOSA (Cuban-American Foundation): He has downed two civilian planes with American flags and American citizens aboard engaged in a humanitarian mission. We consider this an act of war.

WILLIAMS: The option of a military response was discussed and then rejected, but aides here don't mind the Cuban government knowing it's still an option. Brian Williams, NBC News, the White House.

ED RABEL reporting:

This is Ed Rabel in Havana. Outwardly tonight, Cuba remains calm. But the Castro government is accusing the Clinton administration of lying about Cuba's legal right to shoot down the planes.

Mr. RICARDO ALARCON: We are in a middle of a situation that we didn't create. We are listening and following statements that are full of lies.

RABEL: Still, somewhere on this island, Cuba is thought to be hiding a spy, the man US officials believe infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue and set up the four pilots who were shot down and killed on Saturday. Juan Pablo Roque, who flew missions for Brothers to the Rescue, is the man under scrutiny.

Earlier today, FBI agents were at his home in Miami to question his wife on his whereabouts. He disappeared from Miami several days ago, and sources tell NBC News he arrived here in Havana on Friday, the day before the shoot down. A former MiG pilot in the Cuban air force, Roque defected in 1992, swimming to the US base at Guantanamo at the eastern end of the island to find asylum, ultimately in Miami. He even wrote a book called "Desertor" for the foundation, accusing Fidel Castro of treason against the Cuban nation. Today, Alarcon refused to confirm or deny that Roque was Cuba's spy.

Mr. ALARCON: We will, at the appropriate time, provide you with more details of those things.

RABEL: How surprising is all this? US intelligence officials told NBC News months ago they suspected Cuba's spy apparatus had infiltrated every Cuban exile group in the United States, and that certainly included Brothers to the Rescue. Ed Rabel, NBC News, Havana.