As I was reading the Eric Schlosser book Command and Control this summer, I came across the unusual story of a Cuban citizen named Eduardo Guerra Jimenez.
In 1969, he flew a Soviet built MiG jet from Cuba to Florida, landing at Homestead Airfare Base. Schlosser was mainly interested in this event as an illustration of how poorly prepared and trained the Air Force has been at various times throughout history – Jimenez landed the plane not far from Air Force One, which had just brought President Richard Nixon to town and was refueling. No alarms sounded, no one saw the MiG on radar (apparently, he made the entire journey flying quite low over the ocean’s surface), and no one seemed to notice Jimenez’s arrival. But this story also points to other important issues in the US that are still pertinent, mainly those of immigration, extradition, and the war on drugs.
When Jimenez arrived in the US, he was initially hailed as a political dissident, although he later admitted he came to the US more for “personal reasons” having to do with a recent breakup rather than political reasons. Only in his mid-20s and having served in the Cuban military, Jimenez was ready to start a new life as a pilot in the US, but no airline would contact or hire him.. Later, he told The New York Times that although “the United States Government had provided him with a total of $4,000 during his first months in this country, he had never been able to find a ‘permanent, decent job’.” He did a series of jobs from dish washer to factory work to try and support himself and his dog, but ultimately couldn’t make ends meet. So he starting selling marijuana and got arrested by NYC cops in 1971. He maintained that he never sold harder drugs, only marijuana, and the charges against him were dropped because the police search that turned up the weed was deemed illegal.
Eventually, the lack of opportunity for Jimenez in the Land of Opportunity became too much for him to handle. In 1979, he hijacked a Delta flight to Fort Lauderdale and diverted it to Havana, Cuba. He surrendered to Cuban authorities once there. No one was hurt during the hijacking. The US decided not to seek extradition in 1979, but the FBI apparently still considers him a dangerous terrorist, to be considered armed and dangerous. Jimenez’s status remains unknown to the US, as far as I can tell.
This story just strikes me as a profoundly sad one – a young man risked everything to come to the US and despite years of struggle, ultimately made the equally risky choice to go back to his home country which he had once found impossible to live in. And because of our lack of resources, Jimenez sold marijuana to get by. And then we took even that away from him. How much better might his life have been had we helped him get meaningful work and find community?