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By Gary Nelson

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — In Little Havana Tuesday there was grief and anger at a rally and march on the 19th anniversary of the shoot down of two Brothers To The Rescue airplanes over international waters by Cuban jet fighters.

Brothers to the Rescue scoured the Florida Straits from small airplanes at a time when Cubans found at sea were picked up by the Coast Guard and brought to the United States. Cuba considered the Brothers group provocateurs.

“These were American citizens, one of them was a Vietnam veteran, and they were pulverized by migs,” said Elicio Arguelles, his voice choking at the Miami rally. “This has brought us so much pain.”

At Florida International University (FIU) on Tuesday, but for the gentle sound of a fountain, there was silence. A silent tribute from family and friends of the four men shot out of the sky nearly twp decades ago. The group at FIU held hands in a large circle

The Cubans knew the Brothers to The Rescue planes were coming that fateful day in 1996. The group had been infiltrated by Cuban spies. One of them was captured and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shoot down.

At the FIU memorial service, Miriam Costa Mendez, sister of shoot-down victim Carlos Costa, said the years have not eased her pain.

“It’s just as bad as the first day,” she said. “It’s worse this year more than ever because of what happened on December 17th.”

On December 17th, President Obama secured the freedom of American Alan Gross from Cuba, and returned three Cuban spies.
Among the spies returned to the island was the one convicted of murder conspiracy in the shoot-down.

“Today he’s being decorated as a hero with the other spies,” said Maggie Alejandre Khuly, mother of shoot-down victim Armando Alejandre, Jr. “It’s extremely hard for us. It’s triple hard this year.”

But amid the heartache, parents held hands, knowing that their sons died a noble death.

“It’s comforting to know that our children were doing good deeds,” said Miriam de la Pena, mother of shoot-down victim Mario de la Pena. “They were helping mankind.”

Click here to watch Gary Nelson’s report. 


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