307. Airgram From the Department of State to the Mission to the International Civil Aviation Organization1



  • Hijacking

The Department suggests the US Representative approach President Binaghi2 as soon as possible and ask him to immediately and personally communicate with the Cuban Government and request that the GOC issue a public statement which (1) expresses strong disapproval of hijacking as a means of entering Cuba, and (2) declares either (a) that hijackers will be returned to the country of the registration of the hijacked aircraft for trial under the laws of that country for the [Page 539] hijacking, or (b) that hijackers will be tried under the applicable Cuban law. (Alternative (a) is the preferable alternative.) As an alternative, and second choice, we would be happy to have the Cubans return to us one or more hijackers for trial, without any public statement.

We are not totally confident that these actions will produce the desired result, or any particularly desirable reaction from the Cubans. But we feel strongly that ICAO should increase its efforts to deal with the hijacking problem. The most obvious effort is to obtain the cooperation of the Cubans who, however innocently, are intimately enmeshed in the hijacking picture.

The November 4 hijacking of the NAL B–727 to Havana is the 32d instance of a hijacking or attempted hijacking to Cuba since May 1961, and the 15th such instance in the past 6 months. It was also the first instance of actual physical violence in the cockpit. Hijackings are on the increase. The threat to the safety of air travel is obvious. It is equally obvious that a meaningful deterrent to hijacking is needed now; and that we cannot wait for international law to be brought to that point at which it poses a meaningful deterrent to hijacking. We believe the best deterrent would be the return of hijackers for trial or their trial in the country to which they have taken the aircraft. A statement by the GOC along the line set out above is the best and most immediate deterrent which occurs to us.

It can be pointed out that the GOC does not approve of hijacking. The Cuban representative to the 16th Assembly voted for the anti-hijacking resolution. And, to date, the Cubans have acted responsibly in returning planes and passengers.

Binaghi may be reluctant to do this (see Memorandum of Conversation, Loy/Binaghi, of May 17, 1968),3 or something like it, on the ground that “political” considerations are involved. To this it can be said that the planes and passengers of several nations have been involved; that our request for his assistance is not politically motivated, but is based solely on considerations of air safety; that only the Cubans attach political connotation to hijacking to Cuba; and that, in any event, the threat to air safety certainly overrides any political considerations which possibly could be involved.

We anticipate also that Binaghi may demur on the grounds that he would not wish to “single out” Cuba. The answer to this is that, as a practical matter, Cuba must be singled out because more hijacked planes go to Cuba than to anywhere else.

Begin FYI: As US Rep knows, IATA (Hammarskjold) has approached GOC (the UN Ambassador and Castro himself) on this same [Page 540] subject at USG behest. Hammarskjold’s most recent communication to the GOC was in strong and forthright terms (and as yet is unanswered). Given this consideration, and given the GOC’s intransigence so far, we do not believe that any Binaghi approach will be effective unless it is in strong and forthright terms. There should be no mention of the IATA approach to Binaghi. And Binaghi should not mention the USG in his approach. Certainly he could act in his own name, in the name of ICAO, or both.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, AV 6. Confidential. Drafted by Feehan (E/OA); cleared by Styles (E/OA), Knute Malmborg (L/ARA), Fitzgerald (ARA/CCA), Flynn (DOT), and Helfert (DOT); and approved by Loy.
  2. President of the ICAO.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 297.