Wilson, 34, took control of the AN-24 plane, with 51 people aboard, during a flight from the Isle of Youth to Havana March 31. He threatened to blow up the plane with hand grenades, and demanded that the pilot take him, along with his wife and son, who were also on board, to the United States. The grenades later turned out to be fake.
The plane had to land in Havana for refueling. During the 15-hour layover, Cuban and U.S. officials, including President Fidel Castro and U.S. Interests Section chief James Cason, unsuccessfully warned Wilson about the penalties for air piracy, said the September 20 Miami Herald. After Wilson released 21 passengers and refused to give up, Cuban authorities allowed the plane to take off for Florida.
Two U.S. Navy jets escorted the craft to Key West, where Wilson was arrested. At his four-day trial there in July, the jury deliberated for one hour before pronouncing him guilty.
Earlier in September U.S. prosecutors expanded charges against six other hijackers who seized a Cubana Airlines DC-3 passenger plane during its Isle of Youth-Havana flight on March 19. U.S. authorities arrested the six Cubans after the plane landed in Key West, but refused to extradite them or return the plane as the Cuban government had demanded. The prosecution added counts of interfering with a flight crew and conspiracy to the original charge of air piracy. Earlier, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and FBI agents had traveled to Cuba to investigate the case.
These incidents were among a string of seven hijackings of Cuban planes and vessels between August 2002 and April of this year. They have been fueled to a large degree by Washingtons policies towards Cuba, which include restricting the number of visas granted by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to Cubans who apply to emigrate, while encouraging Cubans to cross the Florida straits by any means. The latter is codified in the Cuban Adjustment Act, approved by U.S. Congress in 1966. This law encourages people to leave Cuba for the United States by providing virtually automatic asylum to any Cuban who lands on Floridas shores, regardless of any crimes they may have committed to get there.
On April 11, after a speedy trial, Cuban authorities convicted and executed three ringleaders of the hijacking of a passenger ferry in Havana nine days earlier. No more successful hijackings have taken place since then.
Washington used these executions to orchestrate a campaign of slanders and threats against the revolutionary government. It also used the earlier arrests and convictions of 75 opponents of the Cuban Revolution found guilty and imprisoned for collaborating with and getting funds from U.S. officials in Cuba to advance the U.S. rulers economic war on the Caribbean nation.
As the Cuban government held a firm stance in defending the countrys sovereignty, however, U.S. authorities began to prosecute some of the Cuban hijackers. According to a September 19 Associated Press report, Washington also fulfilled its promised quota this year for granting 20,000 visas to Cubans who apply to emigrate. It had slowed to a trickle between October 2002 and April of this year. During that period, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana had issued only 700 such visas. Rafael Dausá, director of the Cuban foreign ministrys North America division, said in a statement that the news was a positive element for relations on migration issues between Cuba and the United States.
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