U.S. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright released a chilling transcript Tuesday as evidence that Cuban military pilots fired with unabashed glee at the small, ill-fated planes that flew into a danger zone near Cuba on Saturday.
The transcript, presumably collected by U.S. military intelligence and translated from Spanish, revealed that the pilots knew the planes were civilian Cessnas before firing missiles and downing two of the three aircraft piloted by Cuban exiles.
In its most dramatic moments, the transcript - recording the voices of the pilots of a Cuban MiG-23, of a Cuban MiG-29 and of Cuban ground control - shows that ground control told the pilots four times that they were “authorized to destroy” the Cessnas.
After the downing, one of the pilots said: “This one won’t mess around any more.”
Albright told a news conference at the United Nations: “I was struck by the joy of these pilots in committing cold-blooded murder.”
After the first missile was fired, the transcript says, the MiG-29 pilot shouted, “We took out his balls.”
The transcript continues:
MiG-23 pilot: “Wait, wait, look and see where it fell. …”
MiG-29 pilot: “Mark the place where we took it out. …”
MiG-23 pilot: “This one won’t mess around any more.”
After releasing the transcripts, Albright said, “Frankly, this is not ‘cojones.’ This is cowardice.”
The vulgar Spanish word cojones, which means testicles, is usually used to connote bravery or manhood, and the pilots were presumably using the Spanish word where the transcript says “balls.”
Albright released the transcript after the U.N. Security Council said it “strongly deplores” the destruction of the civilian aircraft by the Cuban air force and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the incident.
The council’s stance came in the form of a statement approved unanimously by the 15 members and read in strong tones by Albright, council president for the month of February.
Such a statement, which lacks the legal force of a resolution, is issued only when it meets the approval of all the ambassadors. To win this support, Albright had to water down the statement. The Clinton administration had proposed a statement condemning the Cuban action.
Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina Gonzalez late Tuesday called for a special session of the 185-member U.N. General Assembly, saying the United States rushed the Security Council into action before he arrived to plead Cuba’s case.
The minister said he could not get to New York before the council issued its statement because his U.S. visa from Denmark, where he was visiting, was delayed.
In Havana, Cuban Americans trying to find flights home scrambled from terminal to terminal at a chaotic Havana airport, news agencies reported. On Monday, President Clinton announced a suspension of charter flights between Havana and Miami in a series of measures to punish President Fidel Castro’s government for shooting down the planes.
And Cuban exiles in Miami said Tuesday that they plan to send boats and two more aircraft into international waters and skies off Cuba. “Those are international waters. Nobody can prevent us by fear,” said Jose Basulto, leader of the exile organization Brothers to the Rescue and the pilot of the Cessna that was not shot down.
The transcript released by Albright made it clear that Basulto had been advised by the Cuban government that his planes were courting danger.
The transcript does not make clear whether the planes were over Cuban territorial waters when shot down. The Clinton administration has acknowledged that Basulto’s plane did penetrate Cuban air space but has insisted that the two downed Cessnas did not.
The transcript shows that the Cuban air force pilots knew their targets. The MiG-23 pilot described one plane as a “white and blue small aircraft, at a low altitude, a small aircraft.”
Before the MIG-29 pilot told ground control that “I’m going to fire at it,” he identified his target as “a Cessna 337,” the aircraft flown by Brothers to the Rescue.