314. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Canada1

293341. Subject: Hijacking.

Embassy is requested to approach GOC at appropriate high level and request GOC cooperation in dealing with Cubans on hijacking. Specifically, GOC should be asked to suggest to Cubans that, as an immediately effective means of deterring hijacking to Cuba, the Cuban Government should (1) return hijackers to the state(s) of registration(s) of the hijacked aircraft; and (2) publicly announce its intention of doing this.
In making approach, Embassy may, in its discretion, draw on one or more of the following considerations (plus any others which seem appropriate to Embassy):
Hijacking poses a grave threat to the safety of air transportation. Armed, often mentally unbalanced persons are in forcible control of an aircraft which they are incapable of operating. Not being subject to ground control, the hijacked aircraft is a collision threat to other airborne aircraft. Crewmen are unfamiliar with approach procedures to [Page 553] Cuban airspace, with the extent and condition of facilities at their destination and with the language spoken there. In sum, a hijacked aircraft is a serious threat to lives and property both in the air and on the ground.
The number of hijackings rapidly is increasing. During 1968 alone, 19 large commercial aircraft, including one Canadian flag commercial aircraft, have been hijacked to Cuba or their hijacking to Cuba was attempted. Given the dangerous and volatile circumstances common to all hijackings (para a above), it is almost inevitable that, as the instances of hijackings increase, one or more of them will end in disaster.
Hijacking has been condemned as inimical to air safety in two ICAO resolutions (by the Assembly in Buenos Aires in September, 1968, and by the Council in Montreal in December, 1968). (We add that the December resolution was not as strong as we would have liked it.) It also has been condemned by IATA, by the International Federation of Airline Pilots, and by both the Canadian and U.S. Airline Pilots Associations.
In addition to its interest on behalf of the travelling public, Canada has an individual interest in stopping hijacking. An attempt was made to hijack an Air Canada flight (#303) to Cuba on September 11, 1968. And Air Canada operates to and from various points in “hijacking country,” i.e., Miami, Tampa, Bermuda, Freeport, Nassau, Montego Bay, Kingston, Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
Although there are stiff laws against hijacking in various affected States, including Canada, the deterrent effect of these laws is largely vitiated by the Cubans keeping the hijackers beyond the reach of these laws.
If Embassy deems appropriate, Embassy may disclose to GOC, on close-hold basis, that USG recently sent note directly to Cubans requesting return of hijackers to states of registration of hijacked aircraft and suggested that Cubans publicize such return.
In event the GOC suggests to Embassy use of US-Cuban extradition treaty for obtaining return of hijackers of US planes to Cuba, Embassy should reply that we have studied this matter but have concluded that, for variety of reasons, we did not wish to use the extradition treaty. Embassy may pass to GOC on close-hold basis the following reasons, among others, for our not wishing to go extradition route:
Treaty would permit every aircraft hijacker to raise political offense exception as defense to extradition; and
in exchange for honoring treaty, Cubans might request extradition of Cubans who fled Cuba for political reasons, who could raise same political exception defense, and whom USG would not wish to [Page 554] extradite. Possible net result of (a) and (b) above would be no extradition by either government and so no deterrent to hijacking available by use of USG-Cuban extradition treaty.
In event that Cubans suggest to Canadians use of US-Cuban extradition treaty, Canadian rep should be non-committal, saying knows nothing of details of US-Cuban extradition treaty. But Department would like to know if Cubans suggest this.
  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 Feehan (E/OA); cleared by Beal (E/TT), Feldman (L), Scott (EUR/CAN), Styles (E/OA), Fitzgerald, and Vaky; and approved by Loy.