- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

NEW YORK Two Cuban exiles marched into Manhattan's 17th precinct Tuesday and demanded the arrest of communist dictator Fidel Castro on charges of murder, attempted murder and terrorism.

They also went to the FBI and to the mayor's office. Mr. Castro, in New York this week to attend the United Nations' Millennium Summit, remains at large, but the plaintiff, Jose Basulto, and his lawyer, Roberto Villasente, dramatically made their point and said they would continue to press for the communist dictator's arrest.

Their charges against the Cuban strongman grew out of an international incident on Feb. 24, 1996, when Cuban MiG fighter jets, flying over waters between the island nation and the United States, shot down two unarmed single-engine Cessnas piloted by members of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue. Four of the airmen were killed.

Mr. Basulto, who piloted a third plane with three aboard, managed to escape. The United Nations has never condemned the Cuban air force attack on the private planes, even though most observers believe it was Mr. Castro himself who ordered the mission.

Brothers to the Rescue is a nonprofit group of volunteer pilots who fly over the straits of Florida looking for "rafters" fleeing Cuba. They drop small radios and ask Cubans drifting at sea aboard homemade rafts if they want the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard.

U.S. policy requires that, in most cases, escapees from Cuba be sent back to their homeland. The planes also have dropped copies of the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights over the Cuban capital of Havana.

Mr. Basulto and Mr. Villasente won a $180 million civil court judgment in Florida holding Mr. Castro responsible for the incident. They contend that diplomatic immunity for a head of state should have no status in this case and cite the arrest and detention in 1989 of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was denied immunity from prosecution.

"It is inconceivable that nothing has been done, so we had to resort to this absurd plan and appeal to the court of American public opinion," Mr. Basulto told The Washington Times last night. "I acted in New York as any simple person would do when you're attacked, you go to the police."

He also charged the Clinton administration with following its own "private agenda" to lift economic sanctions and open Cuba to the world.

The anti-Castro activist also met with Manny Papir, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, an outspoken foe of Mr. Castro whom he has publicly called "a murderer." Mr. Papir referred them to the FBI.

"We called ahead," said Mr. Villasante, who was told the agency would study the matter.

Sources close to Mr. Giuliani say he suggested that the case against Mr. Castro be prosecuted under the law of "murder on the high seas." While he served in the Justice Department, Mr. Giuliani prosecuted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whose terrorist followers were responsible for the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

Capt. Bernard S. Cisenza, commanding officer of the 17th, said he could not recall any other time when citizens had come off the street to demand the arrest of a head of state.

"We do get the nutty stuff. You know, usually they come in to confess something, like killing the pope."

He told the two men that he had no jurisdiction to arrest Mr. Castro and referred them to the FBI.

"They must want to draw attention to the fact that he's in the country," said the captain, whose precinct includes the United Nations.

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