Haunted always by the Cubana air disaster

By Ronald Austin

Last year, on the 37th anniversary of the Cubana disaster, the government of Guyana unveiled a monument to 11 citizens who perished when Cubana flight 455 went down off the Barbados coast.

It was a memorial to one of the most painful moments in our post-independence history.

This terrorist act occurred because anti-Castro exiles wanted to inflict punishment on Fidel Castro’s government. It also occurred because Guyana had become too close to the Cuban administration. Finally, all this happened because evil men correctly calculated that they could kill other human beings and not face justice.

Other tragedies had taken place in my lifetime but they all seemed so far away and I did not know the victims. This was how the Gods protected me from knowing of lives “shattered before the mellowing year.” This was different.

My boyhood friend, Compton Bradshaw, who was at our embassy in Havana, lost his wife, Myrna. Another friend, Jeffrey Thomas, a former minister in the government at the time of the tragedy, lost his brother, Rawle.

Rawle was a gifted student and a talented individual. He was off to Cuba to become a doctor. Jeffrey was the last person to see him, having taken him to the airport.

I can imagine how this tragedy must have wracked the other Guyanese family, including the one, which lost a seven-year-old child. Cuba lost an entire fencing team, government ministers and other officials. All of Cuba was plunged into mourning.

Who were the authors of this tragedy? Many contend for this dubious honour.

Cuba very early on accused the U.S. of aiding and abetting known anti-Cuba exiles in the sabotage of Cubana flight 455. And there is sufficient evidence to suggest there was complicity by officials in Washington. Public records show the FBI and CIA, employers of both Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, who planned the bombing, knew of plans to blow up a Cuban plane by the Cuban exiles but did nothing.

Freddy Lugo, Hernan Ricardo Lozano, Bosch and Carriles were arrested and tried for the destruction of the aircraft and killing 78 people. But their trial was more marked for its resemblance to a kabuki theatre than judicial rectitude.

First, a military tribunal tried these men who had no military background. This was corrected and their matter referred to a civilian court.

Here things got very interesting. Lugo and Lozano, who were clearly expendable, were sentenced to 20 years. But the big fish escaped.

Bosch, so well known for his nefarious activities in the hemisphere, appeared in Miami after an acquittal and was treated like royalty. It is public knowledge that the American ambassador to Caracas, Otto Reich, facilitated his entry to the U.S. And the red carpet was extended.

On July 18, 1990, President George H. .W Bush pardoned Bosch at the request of his son Jeb Bush, who went on to become governor of Florida. All this was accomplished despite the fact that elements in the Bush administration advised that Bosch was a well-known terrorist operating in the Western Hemisphere. Bleatings about Middle Eastern terrorism would come later.

Carilles fared just as well. He careered around the U.S. until he was charged for entering the States illegally. He was released on bail despite fierce objections of the Chavez government, the Cuban administration and the U.S. Justice Department’s warning that Carriles was “an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks.”

This incident still haunts my imagination. Do the citizens of a small state not matter? Are they not entitled to justice too?

Ronald Austin is a retired Guyanese diplomat and former ambassador to China.

Ronald Austin
Ronald Austin