It was a peaceful Wednesday afternoon in Barbados 35 years ago. Dalton Guiller had just finished a round of waterskiing and was refueling his boat on shore when a roar in the sky startled him. A low-flying and apparently damaged airliner was fast approaching from the west toward the beach. “It didn’t look right. It was too low. I then saw the plane rise slightly, bank to the right and crash into the water: nose and wing first,” said Guiller.
At the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados, Professor Cecilia Karch-Braithwaite also heard the loud droning of a passenger plane overhead. She told me, “It was unusual, because the aircraft was flying too low and was on a path that planes never take when they approach the airport.” She remembers seeing smoke coming from the side of the plane as it banked to the right and dove nose first into the waters of Paradise Beach. The university is located on a hill five miles from the beach.
I met Guiller and Karch-Braithwaite in Barbardos during last week’s ceremonies to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the murder of the 73 people aboard the Cuban passenger plane that crashed only a few minutes after takeoff from Seawell International Airport in Barbados. Their memories of that day are still vivid.
The aircraft was a DC-8, flown by Cubana de Aviación. It had received its regular maintenance only 10 days earlier and carried 73 persons the day it crashed. The average age on board was a mere 30 years of age, because 24 members of the Cuban fencing team were returning to Cuba after having swept the gold medals at the Pan American games in Caracas, Venezuela. They boarded the plane wearing their medals. In total, there were 57 Cubans, 11 Guyanese, and 5 Koreans.
At 1:23 p.m., local time, Seawell International Airport reported that the pilot, Wilfredo Pérez, called to report an emergency on board, “Seawell! Seawell! CU-455 Seawell. . . ! We have an explosion on board. . . . . We have a fire on board.” A forensic investigation made by Dr. Julio Lara Alonso established that two bombs exploded aboard CU-455, causing it to crash into the sea. The first bomb—under a passenger seat—ignited a fire near the front of the plane, and the second bomb, which exploded about eight minutes later in the rear bathroom of the plane, brought the plane down in seconds.
“I KILLED MORE THAN THE JACKAL”
Two Venezuelan nationals, Hernán Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, had left the bombs on the plane, before disembarking in Barbados. Lugo later told police officials that Ricardo boasted that the 73 people he killed on the plane were “more than the Jackal,” alluding to the famous terrorist Carlos the Jackal. “Now I’m the one who has the record, because I’m the one who blew up that thing,” he told Lugo.
Ricardo confessed to Barbadian and Trinidad officials who were investigating the crime that he and Lugo bombed the plane and that they worked for the CIA and Luis Posada Carriles. He even drew a diagram for them of the detonator he used to ignite the C-4 explosives he placed in the aircraft. He admitted to receiving $25,000 for downing the plane.
Lugo and Ricardo, former Venezuelan agents, were extradited to Venezuela by Trinidad and Tobago. There they were convicted for their role in downing the plane and sentenced to 20 years. After serving their time, they were released. Lugo still lives in Caracas, driving a taxi to earn his living. The Miami Herald reported that Ricardo is now an undercover operative in Florida for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
In 1985 Luis Posada Carriles was indicted and prosecuted as the mastermind of the murder of the 73 persons aboard that plane. But before the Venezuelan court could pronounce a verdict, he escaped from prison. Within a few weeks, he landed a job with the CIA in an operation that later became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. The United States has never bothered to explain how it was possible for an international fugitive charged with 73 counts of first-degree murder to so quickly land a $120,000-a-year job with the CIA, arming Nicaraguan Contras. Orlando Bosch was also pointed out as a co-conspirator and arrested.
When he saw the plane crash into the water, Dalton Guiller immediately swung his small ski boat around and in two minutes arrived on the scene. “I was with two other chaps, and we went to see whether there were any survivors. Unfortunately, there were none,” he said. Surrounded by a strong of smell of fuel, Guiller surveyed the horror. “I saw suitcases, seats, and personal effects. I saw bodies: only one or two of them intact. The others were not full bodies.” He added, “They were suspended at the level of the sea. Perhaps the seat belts cut them off, I could not tell. It was just striking that two or three of the bodies were perpendicular under the sea. Trousers, but no top. Top, but no bottom.”
The forensic report performed by the Barbadian coroner describes the condition of the body of little Sabrina, a nine-year old Guyanese girl who was traveling with her family to Cuba: “Body of a girl around 9 years of age . . . . Brain missing, only facial bones, scalp, and hair remaining. Lungs and heart destroyed. Liver and intestines shattered. Buttocks missing on right lower limb. Compound fracture of tibia and fibula . . . “
The impetus for the horror that invaded paradise that day in Barbados was hatred. Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, terrorists have murdered 2,478 Cubans and incapacitated 2,099 others.
Declassified U.S. intelligence cables reveal that Luis Posada Carriles had spoken of plans to “hit” a Cuban airliner only days before Ricardo and Lugo blew up CU-455. The CIA informed Washington, but no one uttered a word of warning to the Cuban or Venezuelan governments.
What happened in Barbados three and a half decades ago is not an isolated incident. The threat persists. From his lair in Miami, one of the masterminds of the attack on the Cuban airliner, Luis Posada Carriles, continues to call for violence against the Cuban people. His friends continue their efforts to violently lash out at the people of Cuba in an effort to terrorize them into supporting the forceful overthrow of the Cuban government.
OUR MAN IN LATIN AMERICA
Posada Carriles readily admits his relationship with the CIA. His lawyer told a federal court judge that everything his client did in Latin America he did in the “name of Washington.”
What, then, is it that Mr. Posada did in Latin America “in the name of Washington”? Besides the mass murder of the people aboard that passenger plane, Posada tortured Venezuelans in the 1970s, assisted in the murder of Nicaraguans in the 1980s, and trained Guatemalan and Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s and 1990s. He also planned a series of bombings at prominent Cuban hotels and restaurants in 1997, resulting in the murder of Italian businessman Fabio DiCelmo and the wounding of several others. He also conspired to assassinate the president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, several times, including in 2000 at the University of Panamá, where he planned to use 100 pounds of C-4 explosives to blow up a university auditorium full of students along with the Cuban president.