- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Pressure is mounting on the Bush administration to harden U.S.-Cuba policy, with Republican lawmakers and others publicly calling for the Justice Department to indict Cuban President Fidel Castro for murder.
Former ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft late last week asking him to investigate the deaths of three American citizens whose small planes were shot down five years ago by Cuban jet fighters.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and vice chairman of the House International Relations Committee, made a similar appeal to the attorney general in a column published in the Wall Street Journal.
"We are asking you to review the facts, and if the evidence warrants it, to bring those responsible to justice," wrote Mrs. Kirkpatrick, in a letter also signed by prominent Cuban-American academic and civic leaders.
The White House said yesterday it had no change in Cuba policy to announce at this time and referred questions about an indictment of Mr. Castro to the Justice Department, which had no comment.
An extension of a 5-year-old state of "national emergency" regarding Cuba was merely a continuation of existing policy, a spokesman said.
Cuban Air Force MiGs on Feb. 24, 1996, shot down two light aircraft flown by members of Brothers to the Rescue, a humanitarian rescue organization staffed mainly by Miami-based Cuban-Americans. Three of the four killed were U.S. citizens.
A U.N. investigation determined that the planes were unarmed and flying in international airspace although they were on a course that would have carried them toward Havana. Mr. Castro, in a March 1996 interview with Time magazine, admitted authorizing the attack.
U.S. courts found the Cuban government culpable and ordered the payment to the victims' families of $96.7 million from Cuban government funds frozen in U.S. accounts.
Evidence in a trial of suspected spies for Cuba now going on in Miami including coded transmissions intercepted by the FBI indicate that the MiG attack was coordinated from Havana and planned well in advance at the highest levels of the Cuban government.
On the basis of everything that is known, Mr. Smith wrote: "A federal grand jury should be convened to determine whether the evidence warrants an indictment of Mr. Castro for murder."
Mr. Smith said that while the Clinton administration was determined to bring the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombers and Osama bin Laden to justice, there has been little such determination with regard to Cuba.
Even though Mr. Clinton signed legislation to tighten the embargo on Cuba after the shoot-down, opponents of Mr. Castro feel the Clinton administration was too soft on Cuba.
Cuban-Americans in Miami voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Bush in the November election in the expectation he would be tougher.
"Mr. Bush said during the campaign that he would not allow the sanctions to be lifted until all political prisoners are freed and Cuba allows elections," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican and a vociferous opponent of Mr. Castro. "There is no doubt in our community that President Bush will keep his word."
Mr. Diaz-Balart said he had had meetings with senior officials in the Bush White House regarding Cuba.
"It is a totally different environment [than during the Clinton years]. The solidarity with the Cuban people is strong. The tone as well as the substance will be different," he said.
Mr. Diaz-Balart said he is working on a bill to increase U.S. assistance to Cuban dissidents, tighten the embargo and hold Cuban government officials responsible for the Brothers to the Rescue attack, as well as "crimes against humanity."


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