I MET MANY PEOPLE of conscience when I spoke at a vigil for Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet on November 18. I did not expect to meet the parents of Mario Manuel de la Peña, one of the four "Brothers to the Rescue" murdered by Fidel Castro.
"Brothers to the Rescue" is a humanitarian organization which aids rafters attempting to flee Cuba, by dropping food and water from the air. On February 24, 1996, Castro ordered his MIGs to shoot down two of their planes. Four "Brothers" were killed, three of them American citizens.
Castro admitted to the deed in a 1996 interview with Time magazine, "We [Castro and his brother, Raul] gave the order to the head of the air force," he said.
Mario was among the dead. He was an American citizen, born on December 28, 1971 in Weehawken, New Jersey. Flight fascinated him since childhood when he built model rockets and studied the stars.
At 10, Mario resolved to be a pilot. He earned his aircraft mechanic’s license concurrently with his high school diploma and then earned an Associate’s Degree in Professional Piloting at Miami-Dade Community College.
Mario proceeded to pursue a Professional Aeronautics Bachelor’s Degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He was a superb student with a 3.9 grade point average.
Mario was a senior at Embry-Riddle when Castro ordered his murder and the murder of American citizens Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa, and American resident Pablo Morales. He had earned a prestigious internship with American Airlines, well on his way to a career in aviation.
Christianity was central to Mario’s humanitarianism. His over 100 flights to aid balseros (runaways at sea from communist enslavement) exemplified his faith. Shortly before Castro murdered him, Mario referred his mother to the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Mario was also active in the pro-human rights Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Directorate and a certified scuba diver.
Mario is not forgotten in Cuba. Here’s a link to a photograph of Dr. Biscet and Migdalia Rosado memorializing Mario, Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa, and Pablo Morales on February 22, 1999. State-sponsored ruffians beat them soon after this photograph was taken. The beatings were followed by detention for over two weeks. (On this year’s Doctor’s Day, dissidents attempted to honor Dr. Biscet at the hospital where he worked before the regime dispossessed his livelihood for opposing infanticide. With thuggish predictability, Castro’s KGB broke up the assembly. Doctor’s Day is celebrated on December 3 in honor of Dr. Carlos J. Finlay, the Cuban epidemiologist who discovered that mosquitoes transmit yellow fever.)
Mario would have been 30 this month. I see him living his dream as a pilot. I see him at the beach sharing his love of the sea and sky with a young family.
I will never forget meeting Mario de la Peña’s parents, and I will never forget who murdered their son.