Miguel Espinosa was afraid. “I feel like I don’t have much time left,” he told his family, just days before the Barbados crime.
On two other occasions in 1976, Espinosa had co-piloted aircraft in danger of detonating. The first time was when flying Hortensia Bussi, the widow of Chilean President Salvador Allende, from Mexico to Havana. One of the pieces of luggage aboard the aircraft contained a bomb that failed to explode.
Shortly afterwards, a Cubana de Aviación plane he was due to pilot from Kingston airport, Jamaica, to the island was delayed. This technical delay prevented the death of Espinosa and the rest of the passengers, as a device planted among the luggage exploded on the trolley before making it to the aircraft.
The third time he was not so lucky. He was not scheduled to be aboard flight CU-455 from Barbados to Havana that October 6, but at the last minute he was called to stand in for another member of the crew. The flight departed on time, with two active bombs that exploded a few minutes after takeoff, just 600 meters from the coast of Bridgetown. Miguel Espinosa died at the age of 47, along with the rest of the crew and passengers. Seventy-three people in all, of which 57 were Cuban. Espinosa is one among the 3,478 killed and thousands wounded since 1959, as victims of terrorist acts against Cuba with the complicity of successive U.S. administrations.
“I was ten years old,” Haymel Espinosa Gómez notes, leafing through a thick book of photos and newspaper clippings, which she has put together over the last 40 years. Each headline relates to the crime in which her father, Miguel Espinosa, was killed.
“On October 6 we had arranged for Dad to pick my mom and me up outside my school. We were there together since we were to fix up and paint the classroom with other mothers and classmates. When at four o’clock we had not heard from him, we sensed that something had happened.”
At about five o’clock, a small bus parked just in front of her elementary school, from which men and women dressed in the Cubana de Aviación uniform started getting off. “We realized that the worst had happened.” The news of the attack spread like wildfire and the Espinosa-Gómez family home was filled with neighbors, friends, relatives, acquaintances…
“Everyone came to support us. Tearfully they shouted revolutionary slogans. The pain had multiplied. Days later I heard the recording recovered from the plane’s black box,” Haymel recalls, tears in her eyes. “Although I was very young, I have never been able to forget the desperation in that dear voice.”
Today, after so many years, Haymel Espinosa’s pain remains intact. “When they play the recording, I change the channel, or go somewhere else.”
In 2006, relatives of the victims of the bombing visited the monument erected in Barbados in honor of the 73 passengers and crew aboard CU-455.
“It is very near the coast. I remember we sat in silence as close as possible to the sea. We remained there a long time watching the horizon, and we cried. We long for a place in Cuba where we can lay flowers to honor them.
“He named me Haymel. He created my name from those of two Cuban heroines: Haydée Santamaría and Melba Hernández. That is a measure of how committed he was to the Revolution,” this proud daughter states while dusting off a photo of her father, taken in 1976. In it he wears a white shirt, black pants and an elegant Cubana de Aviación captain’s cap. He is smiling.
“He was very merry,” Haymel tenderly recalls, “He loved to joke around with people. It was thanks to that we discovered, in 1976, that he was color blind. If he had not praised the red dress of a doctor on the block, which was actually green, we would still think he didn’t know his colors. Shocked by the mistake, she performed all the necessary tests on him and the results were positive for color blindness. Cubana de Aviación didn’t relieve him of his duties due to the country’s shortage of pilots, and also for his prestige and experience with the airline.”
Haymel Espinosa became a doctor, not only due to the professional calling she felt, but because it was what her father would have wanted. She joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces just like him. “And I even attempted to be a pilot, but I couldn’t,” she says, smiling.
“The tragedy changed my life. Shortly before the attack in Barbados, I was learning to play the guitar. My dad had made me one with parts of old ones. The day before his departure, he swore that on his return home on October 6, he would bring me a new one, he had already saved up the money. That day he would have gone to the school to pick me up with it in his hands. That’s how I imagined it. The guitar never arrived, nor did he and I never wanted to play again.”