Until Cuban fighter pilots shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes, killing four men over international waters between Cuba and Florida on the afternoon of Feb. 24, 1996, Madeleine Albright’s ruby and diamond-studded bluebird pin was simply an antique piece of jewelry in the U.S. ambassador’s extensive collection.
But the soaring bird’s image took on special meaning when Albright, wearing the pin upside down to show outrage and mourning, denounced the Cuban government before the United Nations, uttering her now famous line: “This is not cojones. It is cowardice.”
The vulgar word for testicles was heard being used in a recorded transmission by one of the Cuban pilots after one of the planes went down.
Fifteen years later, the bird pin (circa 1880) opens the exhibition of Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection, a showcase at Freedom Tower of 200 of the politically charged pins Albright wore during her years as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State, the first woman to hold the post.
The Miami Dade College exhibition’s opening to the public Thursday coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down being commemorated by Cuban exiles with various events: a circle of prayer at 10:30 a.m. at the Opa-locka Airport, from where the planes flew that fateful day; a ceremony at the time the first plane went down, 3:23 p.m., at the center fountain of Florida International University’s main campus; a 6 p.m. vigil at the sight of a Brothers memorial monument in front of Hialeah Gardens City Hall; and a 7 p.m. Mass at St. Agatha Catholic Church.
Killed that day were Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales. Their families and MDC announced last week that they have established scholarships in their names.
“We all feel a long and great sadness for the families,” Albright said about the anniversary date.
A Czechoslovakian immigrant who rose to become one of the highest-ranking government officials in the Clinton administration, Albright said that she had “a special feeling for Miami” and is a strong supporter of the Cuban-American community’s efforts to see democratic changes take root on the island.
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