Cuba Politics

Two Cuban soldiers attempt to hijack empty plane to US

Posted May 04, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

By WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press

A pair of heavily armed Cuban soldiers seized a city bus, killed an army officer and triggered a gun battle in a foiled bid to hijack a charter flight bound for the United States.

The young army deserters were arrested before dawn Thursday on the tarmac of a terminal that handles special charter flights between Havana and Miami, as well as New York and other American cities.

The soldiers forced a city bus to head to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport at gunpoint and killed Army Lt. Col. Victor Ibo Acuna Velazquez aboard a plane that had no passengers or crew &#xu2;014 apparently because there were no flights at the early hour. Both were apprehended.

An Interior Ministry statement suggested that Acuna Velazquez, who was unarmed, happened to be on the bus at the time it was commandeered and died “heroically” trying to thwart the hijacking. Other bus passengers were unharmed.

The government blamed anti-Cuba U.S. policy for the incident.

The airplane that two Cuban soldiers attempted to hijack on Thursday sits on the tarmac at Jose Marti Airport outside Havana.
(AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

“The responsibility for these new crimes lies with the highest-ranking authorities of the United States, adding to the long list of terrorist acts that Cuba has been the victim of for nearly half a century,” it said.

Havana says U.S. immigration policies giving most Cubans almost guaranteed residency encourages them to risk their lives to get to the United States, and says that American officials have long tolerated &#xu2;014 even encouraged &#xu2;014 violence against the communist-run country.

The incident comes amid an ongoing political campaign by Cuba’s government accusing U.S. authorities of protecting its archenemy Luis Posada Carriles, a 79-year-old Cuban militant who it accuses of an airliner bombing three decades ago and a string of Havana hotel bombings in the late 1990s.

Thursday’s was the first Cuban hijacking attempt reported since the spring of 2003, when an architect seized an airliner carrying passengers on a domestic flight from the Isle of Youth and diverted it to the United States by brandishing fake grenades. The hijacker was later sentenced to 20 years in prison in the United States.

The previous month, six hijackers forced a Cuban passenger plane to fly to the U.S. at knifepoint. U.S. Air Force fighter jets forced the aircraft to land in Key West.

Thursday’s suspects were among three army soldiers on mandatory military service who fled their base with assault rifles Sunday after killing a fellow soldier and wounding another. The statement said the third escaped soldier was captured before the attempted hijacking but it did not say when.

Because they were active soldiers when the crimes occurred, the three almost certainly will face a lightening-quick trial by military tribunal. The death penalty is likely.

Before the attempted hijacking, the three escaped soldiers were the focus of a huge manhunt. The Defense Ministry over the weekend distributed circulars, describing the fugitive soldiers as armed and dangerous.

The men, all from the eastern province of Camaguey, were identified as Leandro Cerezo Sirut and Alain Forbus Lameru, both 19, and Yoan Torres Martinez, 21. It was unclear which two were involved in the attempted hijacking.

Caridad Carbonel, who has lived near Havana’s airport for 34 years, said she was awakened by gunfire Thursday and saw a vehicle roll onto the tarmac through a side checkpoint.

“There was a terrible shootout,” the 68-year-old said. “I feel awful because things shouldn’t be this way. Young people need to live differently.”

Within hours of the attempted hijacking, all was calm and running on-time at the airport, though the bus and plane involved sat on the tarmac for hours.

Member Comments

On May 04, 2007, Daniel wrote:

Too bad word of armed resistance didn’t spread to the populace and create an uprising

On May 04, 2007, John Darigan wrote:

It’s a shame the world will focus on the attempted hijacking instead of looking at the desperation that caused these young men to take such drastic action. As far as the soldier killed in the attempted hijacking, his death is unfortunate but blame can be laid squarely at the feet of the Castro government’s repressive apparatus.

On May 04, 2007, publisher wrote:

This article might be of interest to you.

Cuban Airport shootout may mark new round of flight

On May 05, 2007, Daniel wrote:

Interesting article…she makes a good point that these young kids may symbolize a new growing discontent…of course the Cuban propaganda machine has already churned out details (possibly fabricated or exaggerated) of “deliquency” and “previous troubles.”  Though it may be true, I’m sure these 3 will be smeared thoroughly leading up to their execution in order to discredit their actions as an “outlier.”

On May 05, 2007, Reina Cabada wrote:

This is a tragedy.  That young men risk their lives and their future, because they live in a regime that gives them no hope of future.  They are victims of political lies, and an oppresive government. We should applaud them for at least trying to do SOMETHING, instead of living death.  I am not condoning violence.  Never. But it shows how desperate this poor young men were.  They are heroes for at least going for it.

On May 05, 2007, Maplerum wrote:

Did anyone catch the jist of what the Cuban government is saying. Blame it on the embargo. The reality is Cuba can trade with any country in the world and some food trade with th United States. Just maybe, Cubanos will wake up and realize how far the Cuban government has gone pulling the wool over the people’s eyes. The only topper will be when they blame Fidel dying on the embargo. My parents taught me not to lie because the lies will catch up to you.

On May 05, 2007, bernie wrote:

If the men were successful in hi-jacking the plane,  they would have been forced to land in Key West, if they were going to go to the USA.  They would have been arrested by the FBI, and within 30 days they would be serving 20 years in a federal prison.
USA does not fool around with hi-jackers, except “one”.

On May 05, 2007, Daniel wrote:

One man’s hijacker is anothers refugee…don’t oversimplify and categorize as these men, being active duty soldiers, would have had a strong case for asylum for fear of persecution.  Reference your other point, the “one” was CIA trained with an unofficial “blessing” by the US to conduct operations, so how could you blame us for trying to avoid prosecution…it’d be a bit hypocritical wouldn’t it?

On May 06, 2007, Maplerum wrote:

It really sounds like these young men got themselves into a bad sequence of events. A poorly planned hijack attempt. I highly doubt that these poor fellows have or had at any time known the legalities of landing in the U.S. via a hijacked plane. They will have their day in the secret kangaroo court and then swiftly executed just like the Casablanca ferry hijackers. As far as Posada is concerned, I don’t give a rat’s ass and everyone needs to stop focusing on the past. We need to help accelerate positive change in Cuba.

We need a made in the Americas Cuba/USA peace treaty. A good idea to start this will be to include Cuba in N.A.F.T.A. with conditions to address humanitarian and political rights. I am suggesting that Michael Wilson, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., begin a dialog to transition Cuba back into the world of respected countries. Respect goes a long way, praise goes further and different countries can teach each other.

On May 07, 2007, MiamiCuban wrote:

If Cuba were to join N.A.F.T.A. it would end up with the dire poverty that Guatemala and El Salvador have.  That trade agreement has done nothing to help anyone except the corporations and the corrupt politicians of Latin American countries.  Cubans are smart enough to know that joining NAFTA, CAFTA, or the IMF will surely halt any progress they hope to make.

As for the hijackers, I hope they DO NOT get executed.  No one deserves this, no matter what the crime.  But they’ve earned jail time, as would anyone willing to hijack a plane and kill in the process of doing so.

On May 23, 2007, Reina Cabada wrote:

any fresh news of these kids that tried to hijack the plane???

On May 23, 2007, publisher wrote:

No. It’s up to Granma now.