Repeated calls for the Caribbean to remain a Zone of Peace were made during the 44th commemoration of the Cubana Airlines tragedy, held yesterday, Tuesday, October 6, at the Cubana Monument site, Paynes Bay, St. James.
Speaking at the event, Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM, David Comissiong said that participating in the annual occasion demonstrates Barbados’ continued solidarity with the families of those who perished.
On October 6, 1976, fifty-seven Cubans, including the entire Cuban national fencing team; 11 Guyanese, mostly medical students, and five North Koreans died in the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 just off the west coast of Barbados.
Mr. Comissiong said that following the “horrific Cubana tragedy”, CARICOM established as one of its fundamental collective Foreign Policy planks, the notion that the Caribbean must be a Zone of Peace.
He recalled: “In 1979, some three years after the act of terrorism perpetrated on the Cubana aircraft, the then Prime Minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, secured the adoption of a Resolution at the Organization of American States to the effect that the Caribbean must be, and must be universally recognised, as a Zone of Peace. And, in subsequent years, this International Law concept was further fleshed out and supported by such Caribbean civil society organisations as the Caribbean Conference of Churches and by such political leaders as Barbados’ own Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow.”
The Ambassador further noted it was in 1986 at the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference in Georgetown, Guyana, Prime Minister Barrow made the following “eloquent and powerful” assertion of the notion that the Caribbean must be a Zone of Peace:
“My position remains clear that the Caribbean must be recognised and respected as a Zone of Peace….I have said it, and I repeat, that while I am Prime Minister of Barbados, our territory will not be used to intimidate any of our neighbours: be that neighbour Cuba or the USA….And I do not think that size is necessarily the only criterion for determining these matters. It is important to let people know where you stand, in what is a moral commitment to Peace in our region.”
Ambassador Comissiong pointed out that numerous regional leaders have taken a similar stance, including Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.
Also adding his voice to the call was Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Barbados, Sergio Jorge Pastrana. He noted that on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, then leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro said:
“Our sisters and brothers killed in Barbados, are not anymore just martyrs, they are unforgettable symbols in the fight against terrorism. They elevate themselves as giants in this historic battle to eradicate this scourge of terrorism from the face of the earth.”
Ambassador Pastrana urged persons gathered at the commemoration to commit themselves to eradicating all kinds of terrorism and hate through love and education.
“Let us then in their memory [the victims] follow their dreamed life paths with our own lives, to continue building with love our Caribbean Zone of Peace against any aggression to our lands and peoples,” he said.
President of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration and the Barbadian Solidarity Movement with Cuba, David Denny, condemned the “terrorist act” of October 6, 1976 and called for justice.
“We must continue as peace loving people to denounce this kind of behaviour and demand that our region remains a Zone of Peace. This is a time for us to stay together, this is a time for us to unite as one, and we must be prepared to fight all forms of terrorism,” he said.
President of the Association of Cuban Residents in Barbados, Yaima Payne, called the Cubana tragedy a “criminal event against humanity”.
She said her people will continue to call for justice and denounce the “terrorist act” which claimed the lives of 73 persons. She also pointed out that the Cuban fencing team, who died that day, was returning home after winning gold in the Central American and Caribbean games, held in Trinidad.
Also present at the commemoration were Consul General of Guyana, Cita Pilgrim; Charge d´Affaires of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Álvaro Sánchez; and Head of the Cuban Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, Dr. Daymarelis Ortega.
The other attendees included Cuban nurses and sports coaches who braved pouring rain while they listened to the speeches and watched Ambassadors Comissiong and Pastrana lay wreaths at the base of the Cubana monument.