Those Cuban Caymanians, predominantly of Cayman descent and also subjects of the United Kingdom, who departed the Isle of Pines Cuba on two “freedom flights” on 22nd October, 1968, recently reflected on the events of that fateful period and gave thanks for the opportunities and God’s grace over the past 44 years of freedom economic, religious and political freedom in our beloved Cayman Islands.
The following comments were made during a special service held at the Church of God Chapel in West Bay on Sunday, 28th October, followed by a fellowship lunch with a selection of Cuban dishes. The message below was written by John W. Ebanks and read by his younger brother Mario E. Ebanks, who were both part of one of the families who arrived from Isle of Pines, via Havana, on the Cubana Aviacion flight of October 22nd, 1968.
“It was October 1968 and those old enough to realise what was happening to our homeland of Cuba after almost a decade under Castro’s rule became more and more concerned as they witnessed private enterprise and freedom of speech, among other cherished privileges, begin to disappear almost on a daily basis.
“Many, including our father the late Phillip W. Ebanks, brother Alfred Powery and scores of other citizens began seeking a way out of the country. It was at this time that the Lord sent a very ambitious and hard working young consular officer by the name of Mary Louise Kroll to Havana to relieve the British consulate for a short period. On her arrival she set out to enquire of all those with British connections that wished to migrate to come forward. As word quickly spread, our father among others, made haste to the embassy in Havana to do whatever was required to make preparations and eventually abandon all they had worked so hard for over the years and seek refuge in another land to which we also had heritage and citizenship rights. After many trips back and fort from Isle of Pines to Havana, at times sleeping at the train station, being laid off their jobs (among other government imposed discouraging hardships) all arrangements were made and we were granted permission to leave the country.
“With time running out for our family, as John was nearing the age of military drafting, which would have prevented him from travelling for years to come, our father prayed for a last chance and some nights would find him going in the woods nearby to plead with God for an answer to prayer. God not only heard and answered our prayers, but also kept us safe. For as he would have it; the day immigration came around to the respective families to give them their exit permits our family was the only ones left out.
My father became much concerned, as the ship to Havana would sail that very night and it would be his last chance to get his family out of Cuba. But God once again not only would test his faith, but assured him of his will for him to leave. For that night before the ship would sail for Havana, there came word of a storm approaching and the voyage was cancelled. All those that had been given their exit visas the day before were now not able to return to their homes as the government officials that visited their property had locked and sealed the door; therefore, leaving them to seek shelter with family or friends.
“The following morning the skies had cleared and at around 10am a Jeep with two government officials drove up to our house. Their mission was to deliver our exit permits and lock and seal the door to our home. After much trials and testing his faith to the max, the day had arrived for our departure as we departed Havana on 22 October 22, 1968, at 1.10pm and arrived in cayman at 1.10pm… (of course there was an hour time difference between Cayman and Havana).
“Forty-four years have passed since that happy and blessed day and although much has changed since then, we give God thanks for all the blessings he has bestowed upon us and thank the people of these Islands who so willingly assisted in so many ways to see us settled in. Since that time, the ship may be battered, but the anchor holds; the sails may have been tattered, but the anchor holds.
Special thanks go out to our cousin Mable who met us at the airport and transported us to West Bay; Aunt Ethel’s family and others. We also remember the Rev. Dewey Johnson and family, who was the pastor at this church at the time and invited my father and our family to join this church. Thank God for his grace and help over all of these years.
“To our friends and family who still live in bondage in the Isle of Pines and Cuba, we say, “keep the faith”, the bells of freedom will ring for you soon too. We wait for the day when we can all sign, that old Negro anthem of emancipation; “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last”.
“Today as many of us who ourselves or our families who came out of those two flights are assembled here, we also pause and reflect on the memory of all those including our father who was part of the flight of 1968, several of whom have passed on to a more glorious residence.”