Relatives of Cubana bombing victims still trying to grapple with loss 25 years on
Want monument erected By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
October 13, 2001

Twenty-five years after Cubana flight CU455 was blown to bits off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976 carrying 73 persons including eleven Guyanese, relatives are still trying to come to grips with their loss.

They would also like to see a promise fulfilled -- that is a monument would be erected in the honour of those killed as promised by the late president Forbes Burnham on the occasion of the first anniversary rally of the `Cubana Disaster' as it became known.

Monuments, they know have been erected in Cuba and Barbados to honour the memory of those who perished. None has been built in Guyana. "It is the least the Guyana Government could now do", to keep their memory alive in the search for justice and a world free of terrorism", one of the relatives said.

A relative who was sent a photograph of the monument in Barbados said that the names of all those who perished are inscribed on it.

Burnham had promised that a monument would be erected outside the University of Guyana.

When contacted this week, some of the relatives expressed surprise that after a gap of ten years, the Guyana government saw it fit to commemorate the occasion. In spite of this, they were pleased but they observed the anniversary this year, in the words of one relative, "with a heavy heart because it had to take the bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon for government to remember it."


The eleven Guyanese who perished on that ill-fated flight, included six outstanding Guyanese scholars on their way to study medicine in Cuba; a family of three, a young mother and a young economist.

The anniversary was observed each year in various parts of the country but this stopped about ten years ago. Queen's College was probably the only institution which observed the occasion each year. Three of those who lost their lives in the tragedy were past outstanding students of the school.

The six students, all honours students at their alma mater would have been about 44 to 46 years old today. They all died at an average age of 19.

The students were Seshnarine Kumar, 18, a past student of Berbice High School and teacher of Bishops' High; Eric Norton, Raymond Persaud and Rawle Thomas were all past students of Queen's College; and Ann Nelson and Jacqueline Williams, both 19, were past students of Bishops' High School. Persaud had also done a teaching stint at the Bishops' High.

Others who lost their lives included Margaret Bradshaw, the wife of a diplomat at the Guyana Embassy in Cuba who left behind a two-month-old daughter; Gordon Sobha who was returning to Germany to an infant daughter and his bride-to-be; Violet Thomas, her daughter Rita Thomas and granddaughter Sobrina Harrypaul who were on their way to Jamaica to visit a relative before continuing to Canada. Only the body of Rita Thomas was recovered from the ocean. She was found clutching her passport.

No bitterness

Norton was the only child of then Deputy Fire Chief Harold Norton and his wife Dorothy and Ann Nelson was her mother, Esther Forde's, only child. Harrypaul, who was returning to join her mother in Canada was her mother's only child.

Harold Norton, Eric's father told this newspaper this week he could not afford to feel bitter because seeking revenge or calling for justice "does not make any sense. Apparently there is nothing anyone can do about it. (Cuban exile) Orlando Bosch, (believed to be the mastermind of the bombing of the Cubana airliner) is running free in Florida."

When he first heard the news on that fateful October day, he did not believe, he said. A young officer had come to their home on Howes Street, Charlestown and told them that the plane had crashed and no one had survived. He had taken a day's leave to drive Eric to the airport so he thought it was a joke and someone was pulling his legs. About two hours later it began to sink in.

Today, he and his wife still feel "just the same way we felt when we got the news. I don't cry as often but I still do. You got to suffer that loss to really understand." He felt that what got them through it all was that "we were always a strong, close family. So we did not collapse and we have been grieving since." He recalled that Eric and Rawle were very close and were also friends with Ann and Jacqueline. Eric was born on October 24, also United Nations Day. He enjoyed telling people about the significance of his birthday.

Another son

The collapse of the WTC and the attack on the Pentagon in the United States brought back sharp memories of the Cubana disaster and it was as if "they had just got the news" Harold Norton said. It had also threatened to be another tragedy for the Norton family. On the morning of the collapse of the World Trade Centre, Harold Norton said he was glued to the television because his adopted son Neville, worked there and he was wondering if the same fate had befallen him as Eric. "You can imagine how I felt. Knowing where it was happening. As fate would have it. I actually saw Neville running down a street (believed to be Broadway) with a handkerchief over his nose. So I called out to my wife. `Come see Neville'. Ten minutes later another relative called to say he saw Neville on television." He said that when Neville's children called to say that their father was fine, he had already known.

Neville, he said is "a very devoted son to us. We cannot complain", he reiterated "No darling. We are not bitter, sad yes, but bitterness, that does not make sense."

Glad that after 10 years the Guyana government has "remembered these children", Norton said each year since the Cubans and Koreans commemorate the day, it was a pity that Guyana had not.

Today, the Nortons, who said that friends of Eric still call on them and bring back memories of their loss, cherish his belongings. These include a coin collection, drawings, his school books and other memorabilia. They remain where they were left.

Desire for justice

Ann Nelson's mother would like to see some justice. Like the Nortons, the collapse of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon brought back the pain and with it a desire for justice to be done. She is not happy that the United States government has the alleged mastermind of the bombing, "Orlando Bosch walking around the USA, a free man. He should have been charged and made to answer."

Like the Nortons, too, she feels the loss like it was yesterday but unlike them she could not keep some of her daughter's things. They brought back too many painful memories. She also felt that her daughter would have been pleased to share some of her belongings knowing that they would have brought some comfort and joy to others. However, she still has some of her books and photographs which she cherishes.

Now in her eighties and recalling how she felt at the time, she said she could have died as well. Ann had made her proud for the time that she lived. Ann's grandmother, she recalled had a dream the night before Ann boarded the ill-fated flight. Now somewhat resentful of the USA she said that her grandmother had urged her not to go to Cuba but to wait another year "then go to America to study". However, she said that as Ann was so excited at the prospect of going along with her friends and colleagues, she said "let her go."

She recalled Ann and Jacqueline being good friends. The disaster caused the Williams family to pick up roots and migrate to England. Since Ann's death, she said "God has been good to me". She has a "godson, Xavier, who is a god-send". Now bed-ridden after a fall in which she fractured her hip, she said that it is her godson who has been looking over her, caring for her and also ensuring that she is cared for.


Rawle's family members continue to miss him. He was the last child in the family. Rawle's sister Sharon still keeps her jottings and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of the events of the Cubana crash, as they unfolded.

Margaret's mother, Elaine Ogle said that she "still has a feeling of emptiness. I think regularly about her and try to remember the funny things she did." Noting that Margaret's daughter is now 25- years-old and living in the USA, she said she does not believe "in an eye for an eye and she quoted a recent placard in one of the newspapers, which said that an eye for an eye will only leave the world blind. At this time she does not think that retaliation is the answer to terrorists' actions. "It will not profit us anything. I do not think it is right."