Student’s dadhelps peoplestill in Cuba

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    By MEGAN CHRISTOFFERSO

    Fueled by the recent downing of two U.S. civilian planes by Cuban MiGs, tensions between the United States and Cuba are rising in a way reminiscent of the Kennedy era. The Senate passed tough new sanctions this week against Cuba, and President Clinton is under increasing pressure from Cuban-American voters to take action against Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

    Watching the situation between the United States and Cuba with particular interest are BYU’s Cuban-American students who have friends and relatives still on the island.

    Frank Chavez, a BYU philosophy student from New York City, thinks the United States could be doing more.

    “What I’d like is just to see (Castro) removed from power by force,” Chavez said.

    “It just has to stop; there’s no reason why somebody should hurt someone else, and on such a great scale. I think that should preclude any international laws.”

    The Helms-Burton bill was passed by the Senate 74-22 in response to the Feb. 24 MiG attack that killed four Cuban-Americans.President Clinton also signed the bill, putting it into action March 12.

    In the Feb. 24 incident, Cuban fighter planes shot down two civilian planes belonging to the Cuban expatriate group Brothers to the Rescue over international waters.

    Chavez’s father, Frank Chavez Sr., 53, is a member of Brothers to the Rescue. He left Cuba at the age of 16, around the same time Castro came to power in 1959. An electrical engineer by trade, he spends his weekends helping others escape Castro’s tyranny.

    “I cannot see people suffer,” Chavez Sr. said. “Whatever it is in my power, I just do it.”

    Chavez Sr. serves as lookout in one of the organization’s Cessna 337 Skymasters. Each Saturday they fly over the Straits of Florida in search of rafters fleeing Cuba. Brothers to the Rescue then drops supplies, such as ice chips and chapstick, to the rafters and radios its position to the U.S. Coast Guard.

    Chavez Sr. insists that, despite Castro’s accusations, Brothers to the Rescue is strictly a humanitarian effort.

    “I would not get involved with a terrorist group,” said Chavez Sr., who is second counselor to the bishop in his Miami ward. “If I knew that this was wrong I wouldn’t be in it.”

    He said the group gathers in prayer before each excursion.

    He would have been on one of the planes that fateful Saturday if not for a church meeting.

    “They called to ask me to go Friday night but I wasn’t home,” Chavez Sr. said. “It’s not my time to go, for whatever reason the Lord knows why.”

    Chavez said it’s hard for him to understand why his dad is willing to risk his life for people he doesn’t even know.

    “I was born here in free America. I don’t know what it’s like to be expropriated of my things by the government or anyone,” Chavez said.

    “I say, ‘Pop, what are you doing on these planes? You’re going to get killed; it’s dangerous.'”

    Chavez said his father told him that something happens to you when you see the people on this raft, and you know what they’re coming from. You just want to help them.

    “On one level I don’t want to comprehend it,” Chavez said. “I just want to be like my other American friends. Something like this happens and none of my friends can relate to it, but I have to because I know my father and my grandparents and other people and what they’ve been through.”

    Chavez Sr. feels the Cuban attack on the Brothers to the Rescue planes was aimed directly at the groups’ founder, Jose Basulto, who was flying that day but was able to escape the MiG attack. He said Castro knew who was up there and thought that by killing the organization’s leader and destroying the planes he could stop it.

    “We’re helping people and Fidel cannot stand that,” Chavez Sr. said. “That’s what it is and we’ll keep going — we aren’t going to stop now. We can’t stop now and we shouldn’t stop.”

    Chavez Sr. expressed sadness at the deaths of Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Pena, Pablo Morales and Carlos Costa.

    He would like to someday go back to Cuba when Castro is no longer in power.

    “There’s a lot of things to build, and I’d like to take the gospel to the island,” he said.

    According to church spokesman Don LeFevre, there is only one branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cuba. However, it is on the U.S. military installation at Guatanama Bay and is not affiliated with communist Cuba. There are no official LDS missionaries in the country.

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