Bahamas seethes over patrol-boat sinking
The Bahamass, a doggedly placid nation of 700 sun-drenched islands, is seething with anger. The reason: Cuba still has not apologized for attacking a Bahamian patrol boat and killing your young Bahamian marines nine days ago.
Havana maintains that it mistook Her Majesty's Bahamian Ship (HMBS) Flamingo for a pirate vessel and has expressed deep regret at sinking it in a savage air strike off its northeast coast.
But Cuba's regrets have not mollfied outraged Bahamians, who find it hard to accept that the 104-feet Flamingo was rocketed, strafed, and sunk by mistake.
The notion that the Cuban fighter pilots could have mistaken what was very obviously a Bahamian patrol boat for a pirate vessel is regarded as patently absurd here.
Not only was the Flamingo of typically naval design and painted in naval gray , but also it bore the designation "PO2" on its hull and was, at the time of the attack, flying two Bahamian flags.
"The more we find out, the more it seems the whole thing was deliberate," says Paul Adderley, the Bahamas' external affairs minister.
The Bahamas government is seeking a formal and unconditional apology from Cuba; a guarantee that its territorial integrity will be respected to the future; and compensation for loss of the Flamingo and its four marines.
Reestablishment of good relations between Nassau and Havana, says Mr. Adderley, "depends entirely on the Cubans." The Cuban delegation sent to the Bahamas to iron out the crisis, he notes, "put a very weak case." He added that "the younger fellows seemed ashamed of the whole thing, really."
But Mr. Adderley is wary of predicting that the required apology will be forthcoming.
Last week a Cuban Navy defector reportedly told US authorities in Miami that Cuba's action against the Flamingo could perhaps be explained by the proximity of two Soviet submarine bases to the spot where the incident took place. Informed sources here contend that the Soviet Union "overbuilt" a fishing port on Cuba's northeast coast and that the additional facilities are, indeed, used by Soviet submarines.
But intelligence circles in Washington insist there is no evidence that Moscow maintains submarine bases on the section of coastline in question.
Such explanations do not ease the anger of Bahamians, however.
When a Cuban delegation headed by Pelegrin Torras, vice-minister of foreign affairs, returned here Thursday for a second meeting on the incident wioth Mr. Adderley, it was compelled to run the gauntlet of an incensed crowd at Nassau's international airport.
Brandishing handwritten slogans such as "Murdering Cuban pigs!" and "Immoral Fascist dogs; Down with Russia's Castro and Castro's Cuba," some 400 demonstrators hurled insults at two limousines carrying the Cuban emissaries, while others pounded on the vehicles with fists and placards.
"They should come and negotiate honorably," said rally organizer Andrew Maynard, chairman of the ruling Progressive Liberal Party. "Nothing can bring the lives of those men back, but we don't want to be insulted further."
The Bahamian account of the Flamingo's sinking is the following:
HMBS Flamingo was on a routine patrol in Bahamian territorial waters when it sighted two Cuban fishing boats. The two boats fled on sighting the Flamingo, which gave chase, arresting them for illegally fishing.
Cuban aircraft soon appeared overhead, presumably in answer to a distress call from one of the fishing boats, and approximately 55 minutes later two or three MIG- 21s swooped out of the sky, fired warning shots across the Flamingo's bows, then blasted it with rockets. The crew leapt clear of the sinking Flamingo, but the Soviet-built aircraft returned and machine-gunned them as they swam. Four men sank beneath the waves.
The survivors boarded the Ferrocem 165 and made their way to Ragged Island, taking with them the eight Cuban fishermen they had detained earlier. Aboard the rusty vessel, the Bahamian marined found a considerable quantity of snappers , groupers, and jacks, 30 crawfish traps and canned food from the Soviet Union.
The seven-man Cuban delegation that flew into Nassau last week continues to maintain that Cuba's MIG-21s had been scrambled to attack what was thought to be a pirate ship bent on kidnapping the crew of the two fishing boats.
Mr. Adderley suggests the fishing boats radioed for help to avoid being taken into custody -- and, in the case of the Ferrocem 54, to avoid a second brush with the Royal Bahamian Defense Force.
The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, which serves as a mouthpiece for Havana, has clainmed that the Flamingo brought on its own destruction by criminally attacking the two Cuban fishing boats in international waters. "The CIA's hand . . . must certainly be behind this," the paper editorialized, implying that CIA agents had somehow engineered "the pirate attack" on the fishing boats. "In the Bahamas complete mafias of Yankee gangsters, which monopolize smuggling, gambling, and drugs, operate. The government of the Bahamas itself is a victim of the action of these elements." it went on.
Says Mr. Adderley: "The Cubans have a complete obsession with the CIA." Countering the charge in Granma last week, Lynden O. Pindling, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, observed: "The CIA couldn't be behind a Bahamian patrol craft on a routine patrol of Bahamian waters."
Mr. Adderley says that the Flamingo was not carrying out any surveillance operation for either the CIA or British interlligence and that it did not have any monitoring equipped aboard. Neither, he adds, does the Ferrocem 165, which is being exhibited to the press today (Monday) at the Coral Harbor base of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.
Could the fishermen have been intelligence operatives? Mr. Adderley doubts it. He thinks the Cubans may have wanted to snatch back their fishermen to show the world they could mount a successful rescue operation in contrast to the recent US debacle in the Iranian desert.
That the Cubans never left their helicopter, he feels, may have more to do with the appearance of two US jets over Ragged Island than uncertainty as to what opposition they might encounter on the ground.