Thirty-five years ago was a day of horror in the Caribbean. Two bombs exploded on a Cuban airliner, which fell into the sea off Barbados. All 78 passengers and crew died, among them members of Cuba’s fencing team, fishermen returning from Guyana and five North Korean nationals.

Luis Posada, one of the plot organizers, had worked for the U. S. Army and CIA. The other, Orlando Bosch, another former CIA functionary, headed an anti-Cuban group of murderers and saboteurs, designated as CORU. One of them was Posada. During 1976, across Latin America, CORU carried out killings and destroyed or damaged airline and government offices used by Cuba or countries establishing relations with Cuba. CORU’s failed attempts to bomb two other airplanes were known to the FBI and CIA prior to Oct. 6, 1976.

Declassified U.S. intelligence documents released by the National Security Archives show that those agencies were aware of the plans beforehand, but did nothing to prevent disaster. The two men placing the bomb were Posada employees. One had previously contacted the FBI in Caracas. After the attack, top Washington officials, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger among them, received reports from U.S. operatives in Caracas naming those involved. One document says, “The source all but admitted that Posada and Bosch had engineered the bombing of the airline.”(sic) Posada, jailed in Venezuela in connection with the crime, escaped in 1985 with CIA help, thus aborting ongoing appeals processes.

Posada, unpunished, lives freely in Miami, as did Bosch until he died in April 2011. Despite the U.S. government having signed relevant treaties, Venezuela’s request for Posada’s extradition goes unanswered.

These are facts. What they mean, first, is that the U.S. government, maintaining official silence, would confine this terrible crime to the realm of “never happened.”  Secondly, U.S hypocrisy on terrorism hangs over the world like a dark cloud. Wars are fought, repression unleashed and violent criminals elevated – all in the name of anti-terrorism.  Next, the U.S role in tolerating or facilitating crimes, as epitomized by destruction of a fully loaded Cuban airliner, demonstrates that in furtherance of often dubious U. S. goals, anything goes. Law, morality, and just plain decency are down the tubes. One concludes, lastly, that for those holding U.S. power, deaths along the way are inconsequential, particularly those of faceless working or marginalized persons. They are evidently seen as disposable.

People in Barbados remember. A series of commemorative events is running Oct. 2 through Oct. 10 in Bridgetown, including a church service, an official tribute at the “Cubana Memorial” and a workshop on “The Threat of Terrorism.” A concert is scheduled, also a showing of the new Saul Landau film Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. The new documentary The Real History of the Cubana Tragedy appeared on television.

In recognition of a skewed U.S. view on terrorism, highlighted anew on the anniversary of the Barbados tragedy, President Obama ought not only to extradite Luis Posada to Venezuela, but also pardon and release the Cuban Five prisoners. In an attempt to stay the terror onslaught continuing into the 1990s, the Cuban government, with limited options, sent the five men to southern Florida to monitor paramilitary plotters.

While one of the “Cuban Five,” Rene Gonzalez, will have left prison on Oct. 7 on completion of his sentence, the four others face outlandishly cruel jail terms. The release of Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labiñino, and Gerardo Hernandez would be the right thing for President Obama to do, and would represent a tiny nod to world opinion.

Repeatedly the call has gone out for justice for the Cuban Five. It’s fitting to do so again on this anniversary. U.S. actions as applied to Cuba set the stage for the plane disaster and keeps the four Cuban men in jail now. There is, of course, a larger context. As pointed out Sept. 29 by the Occupy Wall Street “General Assembly,” those in charge “have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine. He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People's World.