Families of slain volunteers say Castro’s death brings justice

OPA-LOCKA, FLA. (WSVN) - For one group of Cuban exiles and their families, Fidel Castro’s death brought about a sense of relief and justice.

After waiting nearly 21 years, the announcement, made by Cuban President Raul Castro on state TV late Friday night, brought serenity to the parents of 24-year-old Mario de la Peña. “My immediate feeling was just one of peace,” said his mother, Miriam de la Peña.

She indicated her son was a victim of the Castro regime. “Fidel Castro took his life. Premeditated, cold-blooded murder,” she said.

Mario was a pilot and a volunteer with Brothers to the Rescue. “He was a young man of very noble character,” said Mario de la Peña Sr., his father. “He was always trying to help.”

And that’s what he was trying to do on Feb. 24, 1996, in international airspace, when he was searching for rafters in the Florida Straits. Cuban Air Force jet pilots opened fire on two Brothers to the Rescue plane, killing Mario and three other men.

In audio from the MiG jet that shot down one of the planes, a pilot is heard saying in Spanish, “First shot. We got him, damn it! We got him!”

Forty-five-year-old Armando Alejandre Jr. was on the same plane as Mario. “My father was a brave Cuban-American,” said Marlene Alejandre Triana, Armando’s daughter.

Alejandre Triana said the death of Castro is no cause for celebration. “As far as I’m concerned, his death doesn’t change anything. It will not bring my father back, and it won’t bring back the three other men that were killed with him,” she said.

Carlos Costa and Pablo Morales were in the second plane that was shot down. They were both 29 years old.

More than two decades later, no one has been held responsible for the deaths of the four American citizens. “The justice that had failed us here does not fail us anymore,” said Miriam. “We are people of faith, and [Castro] had to face the final judgment. So I’m very much at peace.”

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