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

285410. REPCU.

Embassy should immediately request Swiss Foreign Office to transmit to Cuban Government through Swiss Embassy Havana following note (introductory paragraph and complementary close excluded):2
“The Government of the United States of America seeks the cooperation of the Government of Cuba in attempting to arrive at a mutually agreeable means of deterring the hijacking of commercial aircraft to Cuba.
Since May 1961, 33 airplanes of Canadian, Colombian, Mexican, United States and Venezuelan registry, including 23 scheduled passenger airliners, have been forced to deviate from their prescribed courses and fly to Cuba. So far during 1968 alone, 25 airplanes of the same registries, including 19 scheduled passenger airliners, have been forced to fly to [Page 548] Cuba. In addition, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to hijack aircraft to Cuba.
Each one of these incidents presents a direct and serious threat to air safety. Armed, often dangerous and unbalanced, men are in forcible control of an aircraft which they are unqualified to operate. The discharge aloft of a firearm or explosive device could precipitate the crash of an aircraft. Crewmen may be unfamiliar with procedures for approaching their enforced destination, with the extent and condition of the facilities at that destination, with the language spoken there, and with the weather there and en route. For much of their journeys, the aircraft are beyond the discipline of ground control, threatening the safety not only of the particular aircraft involved, but also of all other aircraft operating in the area. Fortunately, there have been no major accidents involving multiple deaths or injuries to date, but the danger of such incidents has increased with the increase in the number of hijackings and attempted hijackings in recent months.
The Government of the United States is deeply concerned at this serious threat to air safety, and it has reason to hope that the Government of Cuba, which is a member of ICAO and whose flag airline is a member of IATA, is also concerned at the threat to air safety, and would be prepared, on humanitarian grounds, to consider means of averting the threat of serious accidents before one takes place. In particular, this Government notes that the Cuban delegate to the 16th Assembly to ICAO at Buenos Aires stated that Cuba shared the general concern over hijacking and that at no time had Cuba encouraged such seizures. Further, the Government of the United States notes that the Government of Cuba has acted responsibly in returning hijacked aircraft and their passengers, crews and cargoes to the states of registration of the aircraft. Unfortunately, the incidence of aircraft hijackings continues to increase and further measures are necessary if such hijackings are to be deterred.
The Government of the United States notes that the Government of Cuba, like the Government of the United States, concurred in Resolution A 16–37, unanimously adopted by the 16th Assembly of ICAO, which, while calling upon all states to become parties to the Tokyo Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft and to implement Article II of the Convention before adherence, recognized that this Article does not provide a complete remedy for the situation.
The Government of the United States is of the opinion that the most effective means of deterring further hijackings would be to ensure the prosecution of the hijackers. Therefore the Government of the United States proposes that the Government of Cuba return [Page 549] hijackers to the state of registry of the aircraft involved. If the Government of Cuba considers it desirable that an arrangement for the return of hijackers be established on a reciprocal basis, this Government is prepared to join with the Government of Cuba in discussing such an arrangement.
The Government of the United States also takes the opportunity to renew to the Government of Cuba the proposal which the Government of the United States made some time ago through the Swiss Embassy in Havana with relation to the use of the Miami-Varadero refugee airlift plane by those Cuban residents of the U.S. who wish to return to Cuba for permanent residence. It is believed that this would reduce the temptation to hijack airplanes with respect to at least one category of potential hijackers.
The Government of the United States invites the comments of the Government of Cuba on these proposals and further solicits the views of the Government of Cuba as to any other practical steps that might be taken by the two Governments to reduce the threat to air safety arising out of hijacking of commercial aircraft.”
Embassy should request Swiss Government to inform us as soon as note delivered as well as any initial reaction.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, AV 12. Confidential; Priority; Exdis. Drafted by Feldman (L/ARA) and Fitzgerald (ARA/CCA); cleared by Loy (E/TT), Vaky (ARA), Kiselyak (H), Stabler (EUR/AIS), and Brown (S/S); and approved by Secretary Rusk.
  2. The Swiss Ambassador delivered the note to the Cuban Foreign Ministry on December 17. (Telegram 5248 from Bern, December 19; ibid.)
  3. According to the Swiss, the Cubans were “non-committal” on the substance of the note and reacted unfavorably to press reports which had appeared in the United States prior to the presentation of the note. The Embassy in Bern reported: “Although the Cubans made no reference to quid pro quo, Ambassador Fischli considers it possible that Cuba might request, as compensation for return of hijackers, return of Cubans who left Cuba illegally by boat or private plane. He comments that, although situation entirely different because no international agreements exist regarding latter actions, argument might have certain political and propaganda repercussion.” (Telegram 5248; ibid.)