298. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Switzerland1

199169. REPCU.

Recent wave of hijacking of planes to Cuba2 has caused much concern and examination of all measures which might reduce danger of further hijackings.
Proposal has been made in Congressional and aviation circles that U.S. announce that persons desiring to return to Cuba may use refugee airlift plane particularly since aircraft now travels without passengers on Miami-Varadero leg. Department believes this does not really meet basic problem inasmuch as most hijackings have been carried out not by Cuban refugees desiring return to Cuba but rather by others including fugitives from justice on criminal charges and persons of unstable mental condition. Obviously USG cannot facilitate flight of criminal fugitives and most persons of type who have hijacked planes in past would not be likely apply to USG for travel on airlift plane or to Cuban Government for admission. In any case, refugee airlift is operated pursuant to Memorandum of Understanding between U.S. and Cuban governments and any change in present exclusive use of airlift for refugees from Cuba would require Cuban concurrence. Moreover, any persons transported to Cuba would undoubtedly have to be approved for admission by GOC on individual case basis.
Nevertheless, to extent that any Cuban exiles living in U.S. might wish to return to Cuba and might be tempted to hijack a plane, this danger might be diminished somewhat if such persons knew they could return to Cuba on airlift planes. Cuban refugees in U.S. have always been free to return to Cuba permanently if they wish to do so, provided of course they are not wanted in U.S. on criminal charges, but transport has been practically limited to flights from Mexico or Europe. USG would be prepared to announce that such persons could use refugee airlift for repatriation if GOC concurred and agreed to admission of persons involved.
Department therefore requests Swiss Embassy Havana to explore this question with GOC and ascertain whether Cuban Government will agree in principle. It is presumed that GOC would insist on [Page 525] approving admission of individuals on case-by-case basis. In any event, proposal is limited to Cuban exiles or other former residents of Cuba who may wish to return there for permanent residence. It would not include those wishing to go to Cuba for temporary visit or anyone without previous permanent residence in Cuba.
Views of Swiss Embassy on this and any other matters relating to hijacking problem would be appreciated.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, AV 12 US. Confidential. Drafted by John Fitzerald (ARA/CCA); cleared by Clement Sobotka (S/R–ORM), Nikstatus (INS), Williams (E/TT), Barbara Watson (SCA), and John Crump (EUR/AIS); and approved by Fitzgerald.
  2. Three planes were hijacked from June 19 to July 1, 1968.
  3. The Embassy in Bern received no response from the Swiss and approached them again on July 23 and July 30. A Swiss official said that “he assumed absence of reply from Swiss Embassy Havana reflected likelihood that Cubans had not reacted to Swiss approach,” the Embassy reported. (Telegram 3844 from Bern, July 31; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, AV 12 US) When they did respond on July 31, the Cubans called the proposition “interesting” and agreed to raise the matter with the government in Havana. (Telegram 3855 from Bern, July 31; ibid.)