By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
The bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 on October 6, 1976 was the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas until the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York were destroyed on September 11, 2001.
Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles, who lives in Miami, Florida, is the notorious terrorist who is responsible for the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in which 78 people, including 11 Guyanese, were killed on October 6, 1976.
Thirteen years ago, the government of the United States declared a “war on terror”. This campaign began after the destruction of the Twin Towers, which was caused by two hijacked jets flying into each tower. The administration of President George W. Bush decided that Osama bin Laden had masterminded the attack and was to be delivered to the U.S. government for punishment.
On Thursday September 20, 2001, Bush made a speech where he said: “On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. The evidence we have gathered all point to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda.”
Declaring that his demands were “not open to negotiation or discussion”, Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Afghanistan government demanding that they either hand over bin Laden or face attack by the United States. In his September 21, 2001 address to Congress, Bush clarified America’s position on “the war on terror” when he said: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
The government of Afghanistan agreed to try bin Laden in the Afghan Supreme Court if the United States provided evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the attack. Their position was articulated by the Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salem Zaeef, who stated: “Our position is that if America has evidence and proof, they should produce it. We are ready for the trial of Osama bin Laden in light of the evidence.”
Deciding that the counteroffer of the Afghanistan government was unsatisfactory, the American government attacked Afghanistan with an aerial bombardment of Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Konduz and Mazar-e-Sharif. The U.S.-led attacks began on October 7, 2001, accompanied by British forces. Logistical support was provided by other nations including Australia, Canada, France and Germany. So began the United States’ “war on terror” which was named “Operation Enduring Freedom”.
The “war” escalated with Bush’s infamous claim that Saddam Hussein was hoarding “weapons of mass destruction” and so the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was touted as America’s continued “war on terror”. Since then America has invaded several other countries, including Somalia and the Philippines to fight terrorists and put an end to terrorism. In today’s world the United States decides who is or is not a terrorist. Since September 11, 2001, terrorists in the American imagination are people with brown skin who are assumed to be Muslim or look like they may be Muslim. Yet terrorism has been a White American Christian pastime for decades.
On September 15, 1963, White American Christian terrorists bombed an African-American Christian church, the “Sixteenth Street Baptist Church” in Birmingham, Alabama. The blast from the bomb tore through the church basement, killing four African-American children. The four girls whose bodies were shattered in that act of terrorism were Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (12), Carol Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14.) An estimated 22 other African-Americans, members of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, were injured by the bomb.
It was Sunday morning and according to reports published at the time: “At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled ‘The Love That Forgives,’ when the bomb exploded.”
This act of terrorism is considered one of the worst of the 20th century targeted at African-Americans during the Civil Rights struggle. There were countless (many never made public) incidents of terrorism against African-Americans, including the massacre of African-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 (Black Wall Street) and Rosewood, Florida in 1923. Many were labeled “Race Riots” when, in fact, they were dreadful acts of terrorism. Angered that Blacks had managed to create successful lives and communities despite racial oppression, White people lynched African-Americans and destroyed their businesses, churches, homes and schools in jealous rages.
When the terrorists are White Christians, the religion of the perpetrators is ignored but every act of terrorism against African-Americans has been carried out by White Christians. In some cases they are not recognized as acts of terrorism or the perpetrators identified as terrorists.
However, in the case of the September 15, 1963 bombing of the “Sixteenth Street Baptist Church” in Birmingham, Alabama, even former U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, acknowledged that the incident and the bombing of African-American businesses, churches and homes were acts of terrorism. Rice was an eight-year-old living in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 at the time of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. In her 2010 book Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, she writes of the several incidents of bombing in Birmingham, Alabama: “As terrorists still do today, bombers exploded the first device in hopes a crowd would gather. They detonated the second bomb filled with shrapnel and nails – in order to injure as many innocent onlookers as possible.”
It is interesting to note that the U.S. government harbours some of the most notorious terrorists, including Santiago Alvarez and Luis Posada Carriles. Santiago Alvarez is the founder of Alpha 66, a Miami-based anti-Castro domestic terror group that operates a terror training camp in the Florida Everglades. Alpha 66 has been linked to a series of bombings and assassinations in the Miami area during the 1970s and Alvarez is responsible for a 1971 motorboat strafing attack on a Cuban fishing village that killed two men and wounded four people, including two small children.
Many of the people killed in the terrorist attack of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 on October 6, 1976, which was masterminded by Posada Carriles, were teenagers. Six of the 11 Guyanese killed in the attack were between 18 and 19 years old on their way to Cuba on scholarships to study to become medical doctors. The plane also carried 24 young Cubans, who were members of the 1975 national Cuban Under-15 fencing team. They were returning home after winning gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championships competition.
The flight left Guyana for Cuba and stopped in Trinidad, where the terrorists boarded. They left when the plane landed in Barbados after planting the bombs. When the plane lifted off from Barbados, the bombs exploded. Although Posada Carilles is implicated in several acts of terrorism, the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 has been recognized as the most deadly terrorist airline attack in the western hemisphere in the 20th century.
Yet Posada is welcome in the U.S., where former president Bush said on September 20, 2001: “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
In an article published in the Los Angeles Times on May 7, 2008 under the headline “Terror suspect Posada feted in Miami”, Carol J. Williams wrote: “The dapper octogenarian in a crisp blue suit, his face smoothed by plastic surgery, swanned from table to table in the candle-lit banquet hall, bestowing kisses and collecting accolades. An aging movie star being feted by fans? A veteran politico taking his bows? No, the man being honored by 500 fellow Cuban Americans at a sold-out gala was Luis Posada Carriles, the former CIA operative wanted in Venezuela on terrorism charges and under a deportation order for illegally entering the United States more than three years ago.”
The U.S. “war on terror” continues with the Obama administration expanding its military operations in Iraq and Syria while the terrorist who downed the Cubana airline 38 years ago on October 6, 1976 continues to live in America. In 1998, Barbados dedicated the Cubana Monument (located in Payne’s Bay in the parish of St. James) to the memory of those who perished in the bombing of Cubana flight 455 on October 6.
On October 15, 2012, a monument (located at the Turkeyen Campus of the University of Guyana) was unveiled in Guyana to honour the memory of the victims of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 bombing. Guyanese Margaret Bradshaw, Sabrina Harrypaul (9), Seshnarine Kumar (18), Ann Nelson (18), Harold Eric Norton (18), Raymond Persaud (19), Gordon Sobha, Rawle Thomas (18), Rita Thomas, Violet Thomas and Jacqueline Williams (19), were the victims of terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles on October 6, 1976.