A seagull flying over the Florida Straits sees a man and a boy on a styrofoam raft. The Coast Guard rescues them. Their film clip makes it on the evening news. Who cares? Soccer moms, teenage pilots, and ex-CIA freedom-fighters like José Basulto.
Seagull One: The Amazing True story of Brothers to the Rescue is the never-before-told story about the humanitarian organization that saves 4,200 Cuban rafters from death in the Florida Straits. Nineteen nationalities of men and women create unity in multi-cultural Miami when they fly in rickety Cessnas to save the lives of people they will seldom, if ever, meet. And they do it between day jobs and carpool, to prove once again that we are our brothers' keeper.
Seagull One's title refers to the main character, José Basulto, whose radio call sign and aircraft, a twin-engine Cessna, go by the same name. The seagull is a recurring theme, since the bird represents hope for those lost at sea, letting them know they are close to land. Brothers to the Rescue pilots flying over the Straits send out the same message to those fleeing Castro-style Communism ninety miles away from the freest country on earth.
Steve Walton's Big Red with a red cross painted on the tail, spotting rafters below. (Photo courtesy of BTTR Archives)
Young pilots eager to rack up free flying hours volunteer for the missions. But after witnessing the desperation and death in the Florida Straits, their motivation becomes the rescue of souls. The first pilot to join Brothers is the beautiful Mayte Rodríguez, who came from Cuba at one year old, and whose passion for flying is her mainstay in life. Three Argentine pilots, the Lares brothers, are the soul of the organization, making God the co-pilot of Brothers to the Rescue. When the youngest brother is crippled after crashing in the Everglades on a Christmas Eve mission, the Miami community unites in the humanitarian struggle of Brothers. Cuban defector-and-later-turned-spy René González is also present for the birth of the organization. Conrad Webber, Thomas Van Hare, and Steve Walton, three of the American pilots in the organization, give the reader the Anglo point of view of Brothers.
In 1994, Fidel Castro engineers a migration that brings over 30,000 rafters to Miami. President Clinton changes immigration regulations and strips Cubans of their special status as political refugees under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Wet-Feet/Dry-Feet policy becomes law, and Cuban refugees are repatriated to Guantanamo Bay. Basulto tests the patience of Fidel Castro when he flies over Havana in July 1995, then six months later, sends half a million leaflets with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights (of which Cuba is a signatory) to blanket the capital. The shoot down of two unarmed Brothers planes in international waters on February 24, 1996, is the climax of the book. Another spy in the organization, working for both the Cuban government and the FBI, Juan Pablo Roque, betrays his fellow pilots, and three American citizens and one legal resident are murdered over the Florida Straits. The suspicions, doubts, and alleged conspiracy between the United States and Cuba linger until the book's final page.
Author Lily Prellezo interviews over one hundred people associated with Brothers to the Rescue to weave together the riveting true account of these everyday heroes.
- 2015/12/25 - Seagull One - in Spanish!!!!
- 2011/09/12 - A Matriarch of Brothers to the Rescue Has Died
- 2011/09/06 - Jean\'s Friends Book Club