Marking 33 years since 73 persons including 11 Guyanese were killed in the Cubana air disaster, the governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Guyana yesterday reiterated the call for those culpable to be brought to justice.
The event also saw a commitment from government to complete a monument to commemorate the disaster at a new site identified at the University of Guyana, Turkeyen campus.
At a simple memorial and wreath-laying ceremony at the Cuban Embassy, Kingston yesterday the disastrous occurrences of October 6, 1976 were recalled. It was the day when Cubana Flight 455 was headed to Cuba via Barbados through Jamaica and was brought down by a terrorist attack in what was later deemed the most deadly terrorist airline attack in the Western Hemisphere.
Guyanese Ann Nelson, Rawle Thomas, Raymond Persaud, Jacqueline Williams, Eric Norton, Gordon Sobha, Sabrina Harrypaul, Rita Thomas, Seshnarine Kumar, Margaret Bradshaw and Violet Thomas were medical students going to Cuba to pursue scholarships.
The 57 Cubans included all 24 members, many teenagers, of the 1975 Cuban national fencing team that had just won all the gold medals in the Central American and Carib-bean Championship, and officials of the Cuban government.
There were also five Korean cultural officials on board along with 25 crew members when the Douglas DC-8 aircraft went down. The five Koreans were government officials and a cameraman.
A notice-board bore pictures of those killed and dozens of copies of newspaper articles on the event and most ventured to look as they entered the compound with wreaths to lay at the small monument.
In remarks via his translator, Cuban Ambassador Raul Marrero recounted the words of President Fidel Castro when the bombing occurred saying, “when an energetic and virile people cry, injustice trembles.” Against this background he stated that few realized at the time the terrible significance of that fact.
He said the use of such cruel and frightening practices and procedures was started against his country and was preceded by early stages of the triumph of the revolution by another equally absurd and irresponsible act; the hijacking and diversion of aircraft in full flight, a phenomenon the world hardly knew until then.
Venezuelans Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo were believed to have placed the bomb on the plane whose course of flight was from Guyana to Havana via Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica.
Nine minutes after take-off from Barbados a bomb located in the aircraft’s rear lavatories exploded. The plane went into rapid descent while the pilots unsuccessfully tried to return the plane to the airport. A second bomb also exploded causing the plane to crash.
The two Venezuelans were sentenced to 20-year prison terms but another alleged mastermind Orlando Bosch was acquitted because of technical defects in the prosecution’s evidence and he now lives in Miami, Florida while another Luis Carriles was held for eight years and while awaiting a final sentence was held on charges of entering the US illegally but was released in 2007.
Ambassador Marrero said he believed his country had a right to ask what measures would be taken against those responsible for the act and demanded that justice be done with terrorists, “who from the United States territory continue to apply its disgusting methods against our people to spread terror and destroy the economy of our blockaded country.” He vowed that Cuba would not lessen its struggle until justice is finally done.
Acting President Samuel Hinds gave government’s commitment to the completion of a commemorative monument in time for the 34th anniversary at the UG campus, saying the location was fitting since the Guyanese who perished were students.
Meanwhile Hinds emphasized that the dastardly act magnified the need for the fight against terrorism to be a collective one. He called too for justice for the perpetrators. He also called for the removal of the US embargo against Cuba and for the country to be embraced in the activities of the hemisphere.
Mayor Hamilton Green in brief remarks said he was saddened at the fact that a monument was not yet erected. A conflict had ensued between himself and Works Minister Robeson Benn since the Camp Road and Lamaha Street location allotted by him was deemed inappropriate. He was not pleased that again government had to be the guests of the Cuban embassy for the activity and expressed the hope that better would be done next year.
Venezuelan Ambassador Dario Morandy was also very vocal in his call for those guilty of the act to be brought to justice while stressing that his country’s extradition requests for the two mercenaries suspected of the attack, have basically fallen on deaf ears.
He said this position would also be articulated to US President Barack Obama so that the men would be tried in a Venezuelan court.
There were also calls for the United States to examine their double standards in the treatment of terrorism and the words of former president George Bush were echoed by the president of the Guyana/Cuba Friendship Association. He said, “One of the lessons learnt after September 11th is that we must hold people to account for harbouring terrorists. If you harbour a terrorist you’re as equally guilty as the terrorist,” as he called on the US to extradite the alleged plotters of the attack.