The Caribbean’s 9/11- how many know?
It is taken for granted that anytime you hear or read about 9/11, the reference is to the terrorist attack on New York and Washington on Sept.1a1, 2001, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3000 innocent persons. In fact to this day, such has been
the global response to “9/11” that it triggers a virtual automatic response against those alleged to be its perpetrators and a lasting empathy with the victims.
Among the many victims were Caribbean citizens, of almost every country, creed, race and station in life. We all expressed our grief and anger at their demise, supported efforts to apprehend and punish the perpetrators and extended our solidarity with those aggrieved.
As far as the Caribbean was concerned, 9/11 was a terrorist attack on all humanity and we were, and in most cases still are prepared to support whatever measures were taken to apprehend those responsible.
Indignant at the 9/11 attacks, we supported and rejoiced at the US invasion of Afghanistan, having been told that the Taliban supported the 9/11 terrorists, and welcomed the forcible overthrow of Saddam Hussein who, it was alleged, represented a “threat” to democracy world-wide.
“Terrorism” became our watchword as we sought to defend western “democracy” and in the process take forcible steps against those “terrorists” who we were told, were out to eradicate all that we believed in. It was as though we believed that those of our citizens who died in 9/11 were our first to be martyred by terrorists.
The reality of our experience has been quite different. Terror was a feature of the experience of black people from the time they were forcibly taken from Africa into enslavement in the so-called “New World”, and the experiences of Haiti, Santo Domingo, Cuba and the United States, particularly in the slave-enforcing south, bear this out right up to modern times.
Thus it was in the year 1976. Four independent countries in the Caribbean had dared to break the diplomatic and political isolation of Cuba imposed by the USA, and one of them even dared to allow Cuban planes to refuel in their valiant mission to break the back of apartheid South Africa, with western support, in Angola’s war of liberation.
These countries, never mind still friends of the USA and the western world, had to be taught a forcible lesson. The four- Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, had not only broken Cuba’s isolation in the Caribbean, they also permitted the Cuban national airline, Cubana Airways, to develop a service to the Caribbean with a weekly flight departing Havana via Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana with a similar return service.
In 1976 an attempt was made to blow up a Cubana plane in Jamaica which only failed because the bomb placed in a suitcase on the plane failed to explode. A bomb was placed at the Guyana High Commission in Port of Spain which caused some damage, and a terrorist organisation called the United Revolutionary Organisation claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion in the offices of the Trinidad national airline, BWIA, which was the agent for the Cubana flights. The pattern was clear.
It mattered not who suffered in such terrorist acts, these puny Caribbean states had to be put “in their place”. Thus it was on October 6, 1976, two Venezuelan mercenaries, working for well-established anti-Cuba terrorists, Luis Carriles and Orlando Bosch, were sent on a mission which took them from Caracas to Port of Spain, then connected with the Cubana flight to Barbados. Importantly the Cubana flight to Barbados had been delayed and BWIA, the agent, had offered them a BWIA flight to that destination. They refused, expressing preference for the Cubana flight.
On board they deposited the explosives, disembarked and left the tragic results behind. All 73 dead – in one case Grandmother, mother and 9-year old daughter, 8 Guyanese students going to take up scholarships in Cuba, 25 young Cubans including their entire national fencing team and the crew of the ill-fated airline. No time for conscience or sympathy, no queasiness about innocent victims!
That was our version of terrorism, new to us but from which the Cuban people had been suffering for a decade and a half. Innocence does not count in such circumstances but hypocrisy is rife. In spite of efforts to convict Carriles and Bosch, their CIA connections served them in good stead and they were even able to organise later bombings (1997) in a hotel in Havana.
The dread experience is one we cannot forget and we must encourage those too young to know or those unfamiliar with the events to investigate. Just as we stood indignant to the 9/11 bombings in the USA, we must also forcibly condemn the 1976 Caribbean 9/11, call for compensation for families of the victims and an end to all forms of terrorism, armed, economic or political, against Cuba.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.