At that same time, in November, 2002, the Bush administration decided to replace their Cuban envoy to the American Interests Office, Vicky Huddleston, with James Cason. While Ms. Huddleston hated Cuba, she had no hidden agenda and was merely the caretaker of the US Office there. Mr. Cason, on the other hand, had a specific agenda and began to lay it out in detail on one of Cuba's national holidays, February 24, 2003.
In the private residence of a counter-revolutionary ringleader, Mr. Cason spoke at an impromptu press conference made up of foreign and independent journalists present, where he exclaimed: "the revolution towards democracy is underway, and we want you to know you are not alone, that the whole world supports you." He told them that he wasn't afraid that his statement might be viewed as an overt US approval for armed rebellion against the government of Cuba. Such open declarations to the press under US puppet Batista in the 1950s would have meant instant arrest and imprisonment.
Mr. Cason went on to state that he was going to embark on a 6,000-mile journey around the island to drum up any and all local support for the revolution he spoke of. He met with groups of balseros, or rafters, those who fled to the US by boat, but were subsequently returned to Cuba. He wanted to encourage them to organize and tell others that there was plenty of support for their cause beyond the island's borders.
By the night of March 14, the Cuban government had sufficient probable cause that Mr. Cason was fomenting a military intervention among the counter-revolutionaries of the island. At that time, the US had still not played its cards against Iraq and the world was still waiting to see just how much "preemption" the US government was going to dish out and against whom. The Cuban government was very worried that a second invasion, this one on the island of Cuba, was to be included in the plan at the last minute to spearhead a global military action on the so-called "War on Terror."
On March 18, less than 24 hours before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, 77 dissidents were rounded up and incarcerated. Their subsequent convictions gave long prison sentences to many of them under Cuban law 88. The law calls for seven to 15 years' imprisonment for passing information, whether true or false, to the United States that could be used to bolster anti-Cuban measures such as the US economic blockade.
And, as if to pour even more salt on the wound, just two hours before the US illegal invasion of Iraq, a Cuban commercial plane was hijacked from the island of Youth. On the last scheduled flight from the island that day, six individuals, armed with knives similar to the ones used on September 11, 2001, stormed the cockpit and threatened the pilot and copilot if they didn't redirect the flight to the US. The flight eventually landed in Key West under US Air Force escort. On April 10, 2003, all six hijackers were released on bail and the charges eventually dropped. This was the same result as in past hijackings and gave hope to all would-be hijackers that they will never be prosecuted in the US for their crimes.
Indeed on March 29, news was leaked back to the island that the six hijackers were due to be released soon. This was exactly the update that one man was waiting for and on March 31, he decided to hijack another plane from the same island. Sometime during the flight, he told a stewardess that he had two grenades and was going to blow the plane up if it didn't go to the US. Unfortunately, this time the plane didn't have enough fuel to make it and had to land in Havana.
President Castro decided to personally intervene. While he surmised the situation and the possible options for the safety of the passengers, the American liaison, James Cason, calmly slept at home. Finally, around 1:00 am, the American State Department awakened Cason and told him to deliver a message to the Cuban government and President Castro. The US was opposed to any hijackings and would not allow the plane to land in the US.
But then the US sent in another message, they could proceed to the US. Back and forth the messages came, the next one even more confusing than the last. Finally, the next morning the news was given that the hijacked plane would be allowed to fly to Key West. Upon arrival all the passengers, including the entire flight crew, were bound and gagged and told to lie on the tarmac next to the plane. Many were promised money and a great life if they stayed.
But, an even more horrific hijacking started just a few hours later. A ferry boat on its way to Mariel was captured by 11 heavily armed terrorists and 29 passengers were held captive as they demanded that the flat-bottomed boat be taken across high seas to the US. As could be expected, within hours, the boat ran out of fuel and was disabled in the choppy waters just a few miles off the coast of Cuba.
Even though they agreed to be towed back to harbor to refuel, they kept their weapons at the ready and knives around the throats of several of the women. At one point, one of the hostages, a French female tourist, noticed that her captor had grown weary and weak and gestured to the Cuban authorities that she could escape by jumping into the water if they thought it wise. When the message was returned with an affirmative, she suddenly freed herself and dove into the water. Her female companion, also French, followed suit immediately.
When the leader turned around to assess the commotion, another hostage, a member of the Ministry of Interior, put him in a bear hug and they both fell overboard. With that, everyone fell overboard. Fortunately, in the melee that followed, no one was killed or injured. The hostages were freed and the 11 terrorists were arrested and thrown in jail.
At their trial, the hijackers were found guilty of treasonous acts against the state, and three of them, Lorenzo Copello, BÃ¡baro Sevilla, and Jorge Luis MartÃnez, considered to be the masterminds behind the attack, were sentenced to death. They were executed on April 11, 2003. Further investigations uncovered at least 30 other, similar plots as these, but after the executions on April 11, all hijackings ceased.
Again, though I greatly admire President Castro and all he has done for the Cuban people and others, especially under such impossible conditions as the immoral trade embargo and the constant threat of attack from the US, I simply cannot condone the murder of another human being, regardless of the circumstances and even when the outcome seems to have completely justified it.