A former Cuban Air Force pilot who defected to the United States almost two years ago in his MIG jet flew back to Cuba on Saturday night, landing a small plane in traffic along a coastal highway and quickly picking up his wife and two sons from the roadside before turning back to Florida.
In an interview yesterday, the pilot, Orestes Lorenzo Perez, said he flew low over the roof of a car and landed the aging Cessna in the path of an oncoming truck. The truck driver hit his brakes and managed to stop just 10 yards from his propeller blades. Mr. Lorenzo said he then turned his plane around, picked up his family and took off again for Florida in the rosy twilight of the Cuban sunset.
“I’m thrilled that my family is back in freedom with me now,” Mr. Lorenzo said.
Mr. Lorenzo said he believed that his low-altitude flight south across the Florida Straits, most of which he made at wave-skipping altitudes, went undetected by the Cuban authorities until it was too late for any attempt to stop him. American officials said they were unsure whether radar operated by the Customs Service or any other agency picked up the flight.
“We’re looking into that to see if we did what we’re supposed to do, but I don’t have any data on it so far,” said Tom Bowers, a spokesman for the main Customs Service radar and intelligence center in Dade County, Fla. The center suffered damage in Hurricane Andrew in August and is still being repaired, Mr. Bowers said. Special Status for Exiles
Officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service said yesterday that American law granted special status to Cuban exiles. They said they did not believe that any American laws had been violated by Mr. Lorenzo’s flight and that they expected that his family would be granted political asylum.
The Valladares Foundation, a Virginia-based organization that pressures the Cuban Government on human-rights issues, helped organize the rescue flight, Mr. Lorenzo said. A wealthy Cuban-born widow living in Columbus, Ga., donated $30,000 to the Foundation to buy the plane used for the flight, said Kristina Arriaga, the foundation’s executive director.
A former Cuban Air Force major, Mr. Lorenzo flew his MIG-23 from Cuba to Key West, Fla., on March 20, 1991, one of the few times since the 1960’s that a Cuban military aviator has flown a military plane to American soil.
After he was given political asylum last year, Mr. Lorenzo sought unsuccessfully to gain Cuban Government permission for his wife, Maria Victoria, 35, and two sons, Reyniel, 11, and Alejandro, 6, to join him in the United States, he said. Help From Foundation
With the help of the Valladares Foundation, Mr. Lorenzo began to enlist international support in a campaign to pressure Cuba, testifying before the United Nations Human Rights Commission, staging a brief hunger strike in Spain during the summer to call attention to his family’s plight. President Bush met with Mr. Lorenzo at a campaign stop in Miami in October and urged President Fidel Castro to allow the family to emigrate.
In late summer, however, Mr. Lorenzo began plotting a flight into Cuba, at one point considering landing a helicopter near his wife’s Havana residence but later discarding the idea because helicopter costs were too high. Sent a Messenger
But earlier this month, Elena Diaz-Verson Amos, the Cuban-born widow of a wealthy insurance executive, donated $30,000 to the Valladares Foundation to buy a 1961 model twin-engine Cessna, said Ms. Arriaga of the Foundation.
Mr. Lorenzo made several test flights in Georgia, then flew with an American co-pilot to a small airfield at Marathon Key about 100 miles southwest of Miami, Ms. Arriaga said.
He sent a messenger to Cuba from Mexico carrying a letter to his wife, a Havana dentist, telling her to rent a car and drive with the two boys to a spot near a well-known bridge along the main coastal road east of Havana in northern Matanzas province, Mr. Lorenzo said.
Mr. Lorenzo took off alone from the Marathon Key airfield in the Cessna Saturday at 5:05 P.M., he said. After flying straight south to the Cuban coast, he landed along the highway leading from Matanzas to Varadero, a beach resort, at 5:43 P.M.
The Cuban driver whose truck screeched to a halt just 10 yards from Mr. Lorenzo’s plane appeared thunderstruck, he said.
“I’ll never forget his face,” he said. “He couldn’t believe his eyes.”
When his family climbed into the four-seater, Mr. Lorenzo said, his children “wanted to touch me, to embrace me,” but he took off immediately with the entire family in tears, he said.
Mr. Lorenzo returned to the same Marathon Key airfield, he said. He met with officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Miami yesterday, an official from the Valladares Foundation said. He then flew with his wife and family to his home in Springfield, Va.
Lucie Vonderhaar, a spokesperson for the F.B.I. in South Florida, said the bureau had consulted with immigration officials to verify that the three Cubans he brought back with him were definitely family members.
Carol D. Chass, the immigration service’s acting director for the Miami district, said that because Mr. Lorenzo obtained political asylum last year in Washington, she believed that his petitions for asylum on behalf of his wife and children would be presented in the Washington district as well.
Asked if Mr. Lorenzo’s flight had violated any American laws, Ms. Chass replied, “Not to my knowledge, no.”
Under immigration law, Mr. Lorenzo’s family is entitled to “derivative immigration benefits” because Mr. Lorenzo was given political asylum last year, said Duane Austin, an immigration service spokesman. “I don’t see that they will be in any jeopardy,” Mr. Austin said.
Orestes Lorenzo Perez, a former Cuban Air Force major who defected two years ago, arriving at the Opa-Locka airport in Florida on Saturday with his wife, Victoria, and sons, Alejandro, left, and Reyniel. Mr. Perez flew to Cuba to rescue his family after the Cuban Government refused to let them leave.
Published in New York Times 21 December 1992
Jesus Christ tells us in John 14:3
If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
Jesus will come a second time to receive the faithful people that are waiting on His return. Jesus came the first time to save all mankind from their sins and promises to come back the second time to take the born again Christians to be with Him. Are you ready for Jesus should He come back today? Of course no one knows the day or hour. Salvation is Today and is so important as we need to accept the Savior when He knocks on our heart.
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.