Cuba Calls On United States To Return Refugees' Plane

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - The Cuban Foreign Ministry is demanding that the United States return a single-engine plane in which a group of Cubans fled to Key West, Fla., on Monday.

An Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman in Miami told the refugees were moved to a detention center in Miami for questioning. Like most Cubans who make it into the United States, they are expected to be granted asylum.

Radio Havana, the official voice of the Castro government, on Tuesday quoted the Cuban Foreign Ministry as calling the case an act of "air piracy."

The Foreign Ministry demanded that American authorities immediately return to Cuba what it called "the perpetrators of this action, all the illegal immigrants involved, and the hijacked aircraft, which is the property of the Republic of Cuba."

The Foreign Ministry also demanded that the United States share any information it has about the incident.

The Foreign Ministry claims the crop-dusting plane was "hijacked" by a pilot identified as Captain Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra, who "illegally picked up a group of people and then headed to Key West, Florida."

Once the plane reached Florida airspace, two U.S. Air Force jets escorted it to the Key West International Airport.

The Castro government, according to Radio Havana, has not received any word from the U.S. government about what action it would take.

"The hijacking of aircraft is clearly typified as an act of terrorism under the Convention against the Illegal Seizure of Aircraft of 1970, of which the United States and Cuba are both signatories," the Foreign Ministry said.

"The responsibility of crimes like these fall entirely on the United States government, which maintains in place and systematically applies the murderous Cuban Adjustment Act, offering preferential treatment and encouraging illegal migration from Cuba for mere propagandistic purposes," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The Castro government also took President George W. Bush to task for defending the Cuban Adjustment Act during a press conference last week in Washington.

"The US president's personal defense of such a criminal, monstrous law like the Cuban Adjustment Act constitutes a powerful incentive for the commission of serious actions such as the hijacking of aircraft.

"How is it possible that the US government has a policy in place that encourages air piracy and the hijacking of aircraft with their tragic consequences, at a moment when extensive efforts are being carried out to guarantee the national security of the United States and to protect US borders and air traffic?" the Foreign Ministry said.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1965, once Cubans reach American shores ("dry land"), they are allowed to stay, because they are considered political refugees. Cubans detained at sea ("wet feet") are sent back to Cuba.

One federal official in Miami was quoted by wire service reports as saying that the case is not a hijacking, but a defection.