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40 Something Cheyenne


on the snow drifts yes that is definately something i would like to do, they get very big sometimes, so lots of water, the question i suppose is how i go about that because its not all on one level and a swale may not work so well, so a big HOW?




40 something cheyenne


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"You are authorized to destroy the plane," the radar operator in Havana said. "To do what? To do what?" Lt. Col. Lorenzo Alberto Perez asked. He was in the cockpit of a Cuban Air Force MiG-29 fighter jet, cruising at several hundred miles per hour above the Caribbean. Ahead he could see a small blue-and-white Cessna 337. "To destroy the second plane," the voice from Havana Center said. "Come on," Perez said. The Cessna was flying in a big arc 750 feet above the Straits of Florida. In the waters below there were a fishing trawler and a cruise ship. "Get ready, easy there now," the voice from Havana said. "No problem." At that moment, about 10 kilometers to the east of the Cessna, Jose Basulto, founder and leader of Brothers to the Rescue, a Miami-based pilots organization that helped refugees from Cuba and campaigned against Fidel Castro, was flying in another Cessna. He was talking on the radio to Mario de la Pena, 24, who was piloting the plane shadowed by the MiG. "Do you see that smoke to my, ah, left?" Basulto asked Pena. "I don't see anything now," Pena replied. "Do you see smoke below the MiG?" "I didn't see, see the MiG," the young pilot replied. "I saw smoke and a flare." "I do not know if it was a flare," Basulto said. "Calm, calm," the Cuban colonel was breathing into his microphone, to steady himself. He pushed the firing switch on his control stick. A nine-foot-long, 230-pound, heat-seeking missile detached from underneath the MiG's wing and rocketed off toward the rear engine of the Cessna piloted by Mario de la Pena. The fireballs that consumed two Cessna airplanes and killed four of Jose Basulto's colleagues from Brothers to the Rescue in the skies off Havana that day, February 24, 1996, destroyed the possibilities of U.S.-Cuban detente at a time when Cuba was wrestling with its place in the post-Soviet world. The shootdown shattered a budding alliance between Castro's opponents on the island and in Miami. It undermined the already tenuous position of reformers within the Cuban government and strengthened hard-liners wary of political or economic liberalization. President Clinton, previously willing to search for ways to find accommodation with Cuba, became the first president since John F. Kennedy to consider a direct U.S. military attack on the island nation. Because of widespread outrage over the shootdown, the Helms-Burton bill tightening the U.S. embargo on Cuba was transformed from a candidate for a Clinton veto to the law of the land. When Helms-Burton took effect last August, with its punitive sanctions for investors anywhere in the world who do business with the Cuban government, it disrupted America's relations with dozens of friendly governments. After the shootdown, Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, famously denounced the act as Cuban "cowardice." Editorialists decried the Cubans for cold-blooded murder. And murder it was. There is no ambiguity about that -- the Brothers to the Rescue planes were unarmed, they were in international airspace. But if you work backward from that moment, back through the lives of the people in the sky that day, through the years of conflict between Cuba and the United States, the story of the shootdown grows more complex. Jose Basulto, who launched himself so defiantly toward Havana on February 24, has been a part of similarly violent and outsized dramas in the past. In a sense, in the anatomy of the shootdown lies the anatomy of 40 years of edgy, conspiratorial violence involving Cuba and the United States. A pilot, a provocateur, a self-proclaimed "soldier of peace," and a charismatic leader of his fellow exiles, Basulto believes the events of February 24, 1996, were the manifestation of a conspiracy between Cuban leaders and "certain factions" in the U.S. government to eliminate Brothers to the Rescue. A veteran of the violent anti-Castro resistance based in Miami, Basulto is no stranger to elaborate conspiracies. While he has produced no hard evidence for his suspicions about the shootdown, he has helped to raise some serious questions about why U.S. military commanders did nothing to intervene in the deadly, one-sided aerial confrontation. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) has demanded that the Pentagon's inspector general review these questions, an investigation that is ongoing. It was 11:30 on the night of August 24, 1962. John F. Kennedy was president of the United States. Bill Clinton was about to start his junior year of high school in Hot Springs, Ark. Twenty-two-year-old Jose Basulto was standing on the deck of a boat, the Juanin, floating in the darkness about 200 yards off the coast of Miramar, a western suburb of Havana. He was gripping the trigger of a German-made 20mm cannon. Across the water, Basulto could see the lights of the Hornedo de Rosita Hotel. He waited for a signal from the boat's captain, Juan Salvat. Salvat was the brains behind an anti-Castro youth group called the Revolutionary Student Directorate. The directorate was then well-known in Miami both for its intelligence network in Cuba and for its connections in Washington. It was secretly being funded to the tune of $20,000 a month by the CIA, according to documents in the National Archives. Basulto, who came to the United States in 1959, had been an early volunteer for Brigade 2506, an exile army sponsored by the CIA. Trained as a radio operator, he was infiltrated into Cuba just before the brigade's abortive invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. He managed to escape back to Miami, where he brooded about Washington's betrayal of the exile army and plotted to strike again at Castro. For $300 he bought the 20mm cannon and showed it to Salvat. The directorate had been tipped off that Castro often went to the Hornedo de Rosita late on Friday nights to drink with his Soviet Bloc advisers. Salvat gave the signal. Basulto started cranking the handle of the cannon, launching a stream of eight-inch armor-piercing shells into the darkness. In the distance the windows of the hotel were shattering, there was screaming, then the lights went out. The hotel's residents, terrified by the noise, dove behind the reception counter or huddled in their rooms. Castro had not yet arrived, but Basulto didn't know that. He kept firing. Soldiers onshore returned the fire. Cuban Coast Guard boats revved their motors. The young men on the Juanin fled into the darkness back toward the United States. The front-page headline of The Washington Post blared: Havana Area Is Shelled; Castro's Charge of U.S. Aid in Sortie Rejected Nobody was killed or injured, but the hotel guests, who included doctors and other advisers from Czechoslovakia and East Germany, were shaken up. The front page of the Washington Daily News featured a photograph of Jose Basulto and Juan Salvat proudly standing shoulder to shoulder. Thirty-five years later Basulto recalls the moment with a pride that seems somewhat bemused. "We were pretty lousy terrorists, let me tell you," he says, "because somebody else would have got explosive ammunition. But our intention was not to kill people but to scare the hell out of them." He argues that while the directorate militants wouldn't have been at all sorry if they had killed Castro, the attack shouldn't be called an assassination attempt because they were not certain that Castro was actually at the hotel at that moment. Rather, Basulto says, the fusillade of cannon shells was a way of letting Castro know that he himself was a target. It was also, he adds, a way of sending a message to Washington. Kennedy "was saying at the time that there were no Russians in Cuba," Basulto recalls, not quite accurately. "So, it was a nice opportunity to shake the hotel there and see if there are no Russians in Cuba." (In fact, Kennedy was saying at the time that there were no offensive Soviet weapons in Cuba -- he was not denying there were Russians there.) U.S. government officials "had trained us for doing this type of thing," Basulto says. "Except that this time we did it without their consent, and they never expected us to do that." It was only the beginning of Basulto's career as a loose cannon. Seven months after the attack on the hotel in Miramar, Jose Basulto enlisted in the U.S. Army. On March 20, 1963, he and 50 other Bay of Pigs veterans were given officers' commissions as second lieutenants. Among the other promising young men who showed up at the Army recruiting office in Coral Gables, Fla., was Felix Rodriguez, perhaps Jose Basulto's best friend. Rodriguez would become known for participating in the capture of Castro's revolutionary comrade Che Guevara in 1967 and then, in the 1980s, as a player in the Iran-contra scandal. Also enlisting that day was Jorge Mas Canosa, now one of the most powerful men in Cuban-American politics -- the chairman of Radio and TV Marti, a U.S.-subsidized broadcasting empire that competes with Castro's media for the hearts and minds of the Cuban people. After a year studying psychological warfare at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Benning, Ga., Basulto left the Army. He returned to Miami and the anti-Castro underground. What happened in Basulto's life from 1964 to 1969 is not something he cares to talk about in much detail. At one point, in the middle of a conversation about another subject, he says suddenly, "About that time in my life, I have only one thing I want to say. We had come to the conclusion that the only hope for the Cuban people lay in the physical elimination of Fidel Castro." The apparent implication of these words is that Basulto supported and perhaps participated in assassination plots. But he will say nothing else about it, other than to make clear that "I have changed my mind on the subject," as he puts it quietly. "Now we have to concentrate on the man in ourselves. It will require the help of all the Cuban people. Not eliminating one man but eliminating the evil in all of us." Well into the 1970s, though, terrorism against civilians remained a tool of the most militant anti-Castro activists. On October 6, 1976, a Cubana airliner traveling from Barbados en route to Havana was rocked by two bomb explosions in mid-air and smashed into the water, killing all 73 people on board, including 24 members of Cuba's national fencing team. In the aftermath, two former colleagues of Basulto's from the Bay of Pigs days were named as suspects in the bombing, and one spent time in Venezuelan prisons because of the allegations, although neither was ever brought to trial. "The Barbados Bomb," as the incident is still known in Cuba, marked the first time that an unarmed civilian aircraft became a target in the struggle for power between Castro and his foes -- but not the last. There is no indication Basulto had any role in that bombing. He says that he dropped out of politics in the 1970s. He remarried after a bitter divorce and became a builder of luxury homes in the swank gated subdivisions where wealthy Latins congregate in Miami. In the summer of 1991, Billy Schuss, a Cuban American sugar company manager, was watching the local news in Miami. There was a report on rafters -- refugees -- who had come from Cuba and were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. The news camera captured sailors lifting up a retarded teenage boy who was curled up tightly in fear. When Schuss heard the next day that the boy had died at the hospital, he wept. Then he called his friend Jose Basulto and said, "We have to do something." Thus was born Brothers to the Rescue. At the time, South Florida was awash in balseros, as the rafters were known in Cuban Miami. These were a different sort of refugee from those who came in the '60s. They were not, like Jose Basulto's family, professionals, managers and entrepreneurs dispossessed by Castro's revolution. These were working people, many of them black, who couldn't afford the scarce eggs, bread, milk, diapers and gasoline that Castro's embargo-pinched socialism generated. So they started coming to America on jerry-built boats that confirmed the Cuban reputation for ingenuity and audacity. One group of rafters sawed the top off a school bus, turned it upside down, lashed wooden beams to the sides with rope, added some Styrofoam and attached an old motorcycle engine to the back. But all the balseros were taking a huge risk in the brutal sun and treacherous currents of the Florida Straits. More than once, some fisherman or windsurfer in the Keys would find an empty raft washed up on a beach, a silent reminder that a whole Cuban family may have perished in pursuit of the American dream. Basulto enlisted some friends, the Lares brothers from Argentina, who had a plane, as Basulto did. (Basulto had earned his pilot's license in Cuba in 1959.) For two weeks that summer, they flew in tandem over the Straits of Florida looking for rafters. They saw no one. It was hot, noisy, tedious work with no reward. But they kept flying. Within a year they had located hundreds of rafters and were heroes of the local TV news shows, which began to feature Brothers to the Rescue planes hovering over knots of passengers perched on preposterously rickety rafts. In Brothers to the Rescue, Basulto found a nonviolent outlet for his desire for action, his physical daring, his charisma, his desire to help Cubans. He read a book by Martin Luther King Jr. and was impressed by how black Americans had effectively used nonviolent tactics against a seemingly more powerful foe. He started quoting King and attending seminars on nonviolence sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta and the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, Mass. His pilots kept helping rafters to shore. American Airlines and Chevron donated fuel. Gloria Estefan lent her support. Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence went for a ride in a Brothers to the Rescue plane. "This strikes me as a cause, in a community of causes, about which everyone can agree," he wrote in his column. Basulto's conversion to nonviolence, he acknowledged to a Herald reporter, was not easy. "I was trained as a terrorist by the United States, in the use of violence to attain goals," he said. "When I was young, my Hollywood hero was John Wayne. Now I'm like Luke Skywalker. I believe the force is with us." In the spring of 1995, Brothers to the Rescue was effectively put out of business by an election-minded Bill Clinton. The steady flow of rafters into Florida was testing the capacity of social service agencies and the tolerance of some non-Cubans, who were feeling overrun by the new arrivals. There were also 32,000 restless Cuban refugees living in a tent city at the U.S. naval enclave at Guantanamo Bay on the southeastern tip of Cuba. In the White House, there was fear of another flood of refugees like the Mariel boatlift unleashed by Castro in the summer of 1980. Clinton had then been the governor of Arkansas, where thousands of Cubans were detained. The result of Mariel had been riots and a general sense of chaos. Three months later, Clinton had lost his bid to be reelected governor. As president, aides say, Clinton was determined that no such fiasco would mar his 1996 reelection campaign. So Clinton took the advice of a faction of his administration that wanted to open talks with Cuba. He authorized Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff to go to Canada to secretly cut a deal with the Cuban government. The United States would accept the refugees at Guantanamo but end the practice of giving all Cuban refugees automatic asylum in the United States. Instead of getting on the fast track for U.S. citizenship, most rafters would be returned to Cuba. Announced suddenly in May 1995, the new policy had the force of logic. Clinton administration officials were finding it harder and harder to defend the long-standing immigration policy under which a poor Cuban refugee would get automatic asylum in the United States while a poor Haitian refugee would get a return ticket. It also made sense politically. Clinton removed a threat to his electoral prospects in the key state of Florida. And Castro obtained an effective way to stanch the embarrassing flow of rafters out of his country. For South Florida Cubans, long accustomed to their special status in U.S. foreign policy, the deal felt like a betrayal. There was outrage in Miami. Protesters blocked freeways and attempted to shut down the city with a general strike. For Brothers to the Rescue, the deal threatened to end the main rationale for their work. This was a test of what Basulto had learned about nonviolence. How would he now use the examples of King and Gandhi to advance the cause of liberating Cuba? Basulto decided to start flying into Cuban airspace. He said he wanted to show the Cuban people that defiance of their government was possible. And the Cuban government started filing detailed diplomatic notes of protest with the U.S. government. The State Department forwarded these complaints to the Federal Aviation Administration, whose officials contacted Basulto and told him stop. Basulto did not. On July 13, 1995, Basulto flew above a flotilla of boats from Cuban democracy groups that were seeking to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking of a Cuban ferry. One year earlier, a group of Cuban men, desperate to escape the island, had hijacked a ferryboat and ordered the captain to set sail for Miami. The Cuban Coast Guard intercepted the ferry in Cuban waters, ordered it to stop, then rammed it. The ferry sank and 40 people, most of them women and children, drowned. The Castro government was unapologetic. The 1995 commemoration ceremony quickly degenerated into a confrontation. The Cuban Coast Guard intervened and ordered the boats to leave Cuban waters. Basulto, circling above, says that he feared another ramming. With a TV cameraman in tow, he took off for Havana in an effort to divert Castro's forces. He flew a few hundred feet over the Malecon, the main waterfront boulevard in Havana, dropping religious medals and bumper stickers. Upon his return to Miami, Basulto said that he would obey U.S. laws concerning violating the airspace of other countries but that he did not care at all if he was violating Cuban law. "We want confrontation," he declared. Basulto emphasized his commitment to nonviolence. His bravado suggested that his grasp of the philosophy of nonviolence was not as deep as it might have been. Gandhi and King, after all, did not advocate violating just any law imposed by an immoral regime, only laws that were in and of themselves immoral. More importantly, Gandhi and King advocated accepting the punishment of the unjust authorities. By sacrificing themselves to the truncheons of segregationist police, King and his followers forced their oppressors to act out the violence inherent in their unjust laws. If Basulto had fully applied the lessons King taught, he might have landed his plane on the Malecon and let the TV cameras of the world capture him being carried off to jail. Understandably, Basulto did nothing of the sort. Such a stunt might well have won him a one-way ticket to a firing squad. On the rainy, windy afternoon of January 13, 1996, Basulto and another Brothers to the Rescue pilot, Pablo Roque, flew south from Miami toward Havana. Somewhere not far from the city, Roque took the controls while Basulto clambered into the back of the Cessna. He opened the rear door and started tossing bundles of pamphlets into the roaring wind. The Cuban government says the plane was five miles inside Cuban airspace at the time; Basulto denies this, producing a series of maps and charts to support his argument that it was possible for him to dump the leaflets in international airspace a


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