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Students commemorate Cuban crash

Cuban fighter planes shot down two civilian U.S. planes on humanitarian missions over international waters in 1996 — 10 years later, junior policy and management major David O. Caballero held a moment of silence for the victims.

Four humanitarian pilots — Mario M. de la Peña, Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, and Armando
Alejandre — were flying a Brothers to the Rescue mission between Florida and Cuba on February 24, 1996. They were shot down between 3:21 and 3:28 pm by order of the Cuban government.

“I’m trying to commemorate the lives of these four men,” Caballero said, leading Friday’s memorial outside Hunt Library. A group of four formed a circle around Caballero as he outlined the tragedy and read biographies of the victims. The memorial ended with a seven-minute moment of silence, during which Caballero made mention of the exact times when the planes were shot down.

Caballero intended to observe the humanitarian efforts of the victims and put politics aside.

“They were young individuals, something we can all relate to,” Caballero said. Three of the four pilots were under 30 years old.

The four pilots were on a Brothers to the Rescue mission when they went down, Caballero explained. Brothers to the Rescue is a humanitarian organization that rescues Cuban refugee rafters escaping from Cuba to the United States. According to an online source, the organization has rescued over 4200 individuals since its initiation.

Memorials for the victims were held across 30 to 40 universities as a part of the Raices de Esperanza, a student-run conference bringing together Cuban-American Student Associations across the nation. Caballero is currently writing the constitution for Carnegie Mellon’s Cuban-American Student Association, a group open to anyone interested in assisting the community and Cuban youth.

“It’s basically a group trying to aid people,” Caballero said. “It’s not only Cuban issues — it’s
humanitarian aid.” Caballero aims to provide this aid through fundraisers, book drives, and community service.

First-year biomedical engineering major Daniel Garcia, a high school friend of Caballero, also considers the Cuban situation grim. “It’s just all poverty; there’s no money going around anywhere,” he said.

As his grandfather and grandmother immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, Caballero feels connected to the current situation in Cuba. “They raised me with a sense of pride in where I’m from,” he said.

For Caballero, events like the Cuban shootdown are true awakenings to needed change in Cuba. .