Cuban President Fidel Castro laid a wreath Saturday at a monument to 73 people who perished when a Cuban airliner was bombed out of the sky off Barbados two decades ago.
But the simple ceremony at the site overlooking the crystal-clear waters of Payne's Bay was a painful reminder of the price Cuba has paid for its communist revolution.The Oct. 6, 1976, bombing, blamed on anti-Castro activists, killed 57 Cubans, including teen-age members of Cuba's national fencing team, along with 11 Guyanese and five North Koreans.
Horrified Barbadians and tourists watched the Cubana airlines plane fall from the sky about four miles off the western coast of this Caribbean island.
"Everlasting glory to them! Cuba will never forget it!" Castro thundered to the applause of several hundred spectators at the dedication ceremony.
That act of "criminal sabotage," Castro said, had irrevocably linked Barbados with Cuba.
"The blood of those who died as a consequence of that crime forever tied the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Cuban people and the Barbadian people," Castro declared.
He praised the Cubana crew for trying to bring the damaged plane home and he thanked Barbadians for their frantic efforts to find survivors that sunny day 22 years ago. There were none.
Ultimately, four people were charged in Venezuela. Two were convicted, while the others, who had ties to U.S.-based Cuban exiles, were acquitted.
One of them, Luis Posada Carriles, recently claimed in interviews with The New York Times that he was responsible for hotel bombings in Havana last year, and that he was supported by Cuban exiles in the United States.
Posada - who denied involvement in the airliner bombing - later recanted. But Castro seized the opportunity to ask President Clinton to crack down on U.S.-based Cuban exiles Castro accuses of waging terrorism.
At the ceremony, Castro blamed the bombing on "agents trained and controlled by the CIA," including Posada.
The 1976 bombing thrust Barbados into an international tug-of-war over who should bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.
"This made Barbados grow up very quickly. We were under pressure to be either pro-U.S. or pro-Cuban," said Glenroy Straughn, 71, a former member of Barbados' parliament who visited the monument to gaze over its names.
Saturday's dedication was the highlight of Castro's visit to Barbados, the second leg of a three-nation Caribbean goodwill tour.