300. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Mexico1

205994. 1. In last year there have been 14 incidents of hijackings of planes to Cuba. Although few cases involved small chartered aircraft [Page 527] most were commercial airliners. Nine of planes were of U.S. registry and remainder of Colombian, Venezuelan and Mexican registry. In all cases so far planes and passengers have been allowed to depart Cuba but all hijackers have been given asylum there and in one case pilot of U.S. plane, now U.S. citizen, was detained on charges relating to his earlier departure from Cuba.

2. Increasing frequency of these hijackings has caused great concern in aviation and governmental circles as well as in general public. Examination of security measures designed to reduce hijacking hazard indicates difficulties of preventing inclusion of hijackers in flights and once hijacker is aboard little can be done to thwart him in view of high risk to safety of plane and passengers. Emphasis therefore being placed on deterrence which might result from knowledge hijackers could not count on safe asylum in other country.

3. While GOC has so far permitted all hijackers remain in Cuba, there is no evidence thus far that GOC is back of hijackings and there are some indications it may be uncomfortable over publicity these incidents and fact hijackers remain in Cuba. While few of hijackers appear to be Cubans, majority have not been and many are either mentally unbalanced or criminal fugitives. However, prospect for surrender of hijackers for prosecution in U.S. does not appear favorable if solution attempted in purely U.S.-Cuban bilateral terms.

4. Department therefore exploring with international civil aviation organizations possibility of attempting solution on basis of fact problem is international.2 U.S. airlines are also understood to be considering announcing offer of substantial reward for return of hijackers for prosecution.3 (Such offer, while mainly applicable to Cuba in present circumstances, would not be limited to that country and would be payable to either governments or individuals for return of hijackers.)

5. Embassy requested to discuss this situation with GOM at highest appropriate level,4 drawing on foregoing, with view to soliciting Mexican views on subject, bearing in mind fact that at least one Mexican [Page 528] plane was hijacked in last year and there could be further incidents involving Mexican planes. Mexican views on approach vis-à-vis Cubans to this problem most likely to offer prospect of success are especially desired.5 While Mexican approach to Cubans is not specifically requested at this point, Department would be particularly interested in any indication Mexicans would be inclined to take up with Cubans through Mexican Embassy Havana question of return of some or all hijackers to country where hijacking took place.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, AV 12 US. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by Fitzgerald, cleared by Loy and Chaplin (ARA/MEX), and approved by Robert Sayre (ARA).
  2. Gazdik met with Loy on July 19 to tell him that Hammarskjold was willing to make an initial approach to Cubana Airlines on hijacking. “They would send a telegram to Cubana to the effect that in the interests of safeguarding the confidence and safety of regular air transport they would like to meet with Cubana representatives at Mexico City, or any other place, for an exchange of views as to what could be done through IATA or its members on hijacking.” (Memorandum of conversation, July 19; ibid.)
  3. On July 19 a representative of National Airlines suggested a reward of as much as $500,000 for the apprehension. Perhaps because a National aircraft had been hijacked most recently on July 17, the airline was willing to put up $100,000 without going to its board of directors. (Memorandum of conversation, July 19; ibid.)
  4. When approached on July 23, the Mexican Foreign Secretary was “most interested and willing to cooperate” and agreed to raise the issue with his President and Ambassador in Havana. (Telegram 6129 from Mexico City, July 23; ibid.)
  5. According to a U.S. Embassy report, Foreign Secretary Carillo Flores told the Ambassador on July 25 that the Mexican Government was “enthusiastic about exploring this matter and we can count on its taking sincere and active interest.” (Telegram 6167 from Mexico City, July 25; ibid.)