50 years ago: 162 home from Cuba

The front page of the 7 Aug. 1969 Caymanian Weekly shows a photo of Caymanian repatriates making their way down the steps of the Cuban plane that brought them home.

In the 7 Aug. 1969 edition of the Caymanian Weekly, a precursor of the Cayman Compass, the front page carried a report on the repatriation of a large group of Caymanians from Cuba. It read:

“One hundred and sixty-two Caymanians, some of whom have lived in Cuba over 50 years, were repatriated to their homeland and tears of joy flowed as they were reunited with their families at Owen Roberts airport on Monday.

“The first flight by the Ilyushin 18B of Cubana Airlines from Havana under Capt. I. Tiomno and his crew of five, including a stewardess, made two flights, arriving at 1:35pm with 99 passengers and at 6:35pm with a further 63.

“On the passenger list were many familiar surnames – Ebanks, Carter, Rivers, Tomlinson, Powery, Watler, McLaughlin, Crowe, Hill, Whittaker, Hydes, Parchment, Nixon, Smith, Terry, Borden, Brown, Thompson and Diaz – appearing to indicate that the repatriates originate from all over Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

“To officially greet the homecomers were His Honour the Administrator (2nd flight), the Asst. Admin. Mr. Dennis Foster, the Hons. B.O. Ebanks Jr. and W.W. Conolly, Members of the Legislative Council, and Inspector Roy Archer.

“Freemasons and their wives provided much needed and greatly appreciated refreshments in the receiving area. Most of the returnees had been in Havana and without food from the previous day.

One lady just did not manage to gain her freedom – Mrs. Donie McKenzie is reported to have died at Havana Airport on Sunday while waiting for the flight to bring her home.

“Many of those returning have lived in the Isle of Pines and all appeared to have enjoyed life in Cuba until 10 years ago when the Communists took over, and from then ‘Cuba was finished’, in the words of Mr. Watler who had previously spent only one month in Cayman in 67 years. ‘I’m just glad I got out alive,’ said Mrs. Alice Watler who had been in Cuba 64 years. Another lady was heard to remark, ‘I’ve lived in hell for 10 years and I don’t want to even think about it any more.’

“‘Do you know what it is like to live without being able to get anything to eat, or to wear, or to put on your feet?’ asked another lady. ‘Well, it’s terrible, I can tell you,’ she added.

“The many children are, of course, Spanish speaking and it will perhaps be more difficult for them to adjust to a new life in Cayman, but we rejoice that they will know what freedom means in their tender years.

“All those returning were vaccinated at the airport by nurses from our hospital.

“Our Government had to pay about $1,650 for the two flights but much of this will eventually be repaid by the repatriates as it becomes financially possible for them to do this.

“Both flights were handled by the staff of BWIA.

“Monday, 4th August, 1969, was certainly a ‘Gala Day’ for many in the Cayman Islands and the sight of the huge welcoming party at the airport must have been heartwarming to those who came home at last and a surprise to the Cuban crew of CU-T832.”