Cubans respond to spree of hijackings

A rash of hijackings in the last month – two airliners in March and a ferry on April 2 –have aroused righteous anger in Cuba. The dramatic circumstances surrounding the kidnappings were highlighted in a live broadcast on Cuban TV last week, featuring passengers from the first hijacked plane together with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

As recounted by Granma International, the panel for the program included several of the passengers on the jetliner hijacked March 19, who were returned to Cuba last week after their involuntary journey to Florida. The kidnapping victims told of the fear they experienced during 14 hours of confinement at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, during which the hijacker displayed no concern for the health and welfare of those on board, including children and sick adults. All efforts to talk the perpetrator out of his plan – by other passengers, by Cuban authorities and by the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana – were of no avail.

Some of the passengers also told of the heavy police deployment that awaited them when they arrived in the United States, and the violent treatment they received.

In his remarks, President Castro emphasized the role of the so-called Cuban Adjustment Act in encouraging such terrorist actions. The 1968 law virtually assures legal residency to any Cuban reaching the United States. “The only way to put an end to hijackings is to punish the hijackers,” he said.

Also participating in the program was one of the hostages from the Baragua ferry, who told of the foiled hijacking on April 2. Despite repeated pleas to abandon their plans because of danger to passengers from high waves and severe gusting winds, the hijackers took the vessel, built only for service in coastal waterways, into the open sea. Threats of death were constant.

Hours later, when the ferry, out of fuel and drifting, was towed into the Cuban port of Mariel by a tug, newspapers were sent on board containing a warning from the U.S. Interest Section that hijackers would be arraigned in U.S. courts. At the same time, Cuban forces were prepared to act if necessary.

The highjackers took two French tourists to the deck and threatened to throw them overboard unless fuel was provided. They dived over the edge instead. A Ministry of the Interior officer who was traveling on the ferry over-powered the hijackers’ ringleader, whose gun fell overboard in the melee.