Saturday, October 26, 2013

29 years later, Cuba hijacker wants to go home

Posted on Friday, 10.25.13

29 years later, Cuba hijacker wants to go home

HAVANA -- William Potts burned with the desire to change the world.
Nothing really turned out the way he planned.

Dreaming of joining the struggle to uproot global oppression, he dropped
out of college, became a Muslim and went to join the Namibian freedom
movement. He got stuck in Liberia, half a continent away.

So he returned to the United States and in 1984 he concealed a
.25-caliber pistol in a plaster cast and hijacked a plane to Cuba, among
the last in a flood of dozens of self-styled revolutionary hijackings.
To Potts' surprise, Cuban authorities didn't offer him guerrilla
training. He was convicted of air piracy and imprisoned for more than 13

Now, 29 years after he changed into a black beret and leather jacket in
a plane bathroom and hijacked more than 100 people on their way from
Newark to Miami, Potts is optimistic that he'll soon be heading home. He
said Friday that U.S. officials in Cuba are processing a passport
application he submitted earlier in the week and they have told him it
could be completed in a matter of weeks.

While he faces virtually certain arrest upon return, he said he believes
that the time he served in Cuba will allow him to avoid a lengthy second
jail term.

"Some people believe I should spend the rest of my life behind bars, but
that's not my position. I was sentenced in a recognized court of law to
fifteen years in prison. I did the crime, I did the time," Potts said.
"I don't expect to pay two times for a crime I already paid 15 years for."

Potts said going home will help him move beyond what he acknowledges was
a mistake that put dozens of passengers' lives at risk and separated him
from his siblings and parents in the U.S. in a way that's increasingly
painful as he ages.

Prosecutors in Florida, where Potts was also indicted for air piracy,
did not respond to requests for comments on his case. The U.S. Interests
Section in Cuba declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but
noted that "through our missions overseas, U.S. citizens traveling or
residing overseas are accorded a full range of passport services."

Cuba has granted political refugee status, along with free housing,
health care and other benefits, to dozens of fugitives like Potts, many
black militants and other leftists who fled here from the U.S. in the
'60s and '70s. Many are believed to remain in Cuba, including several
who are among the U.S. most-wanted fugitives.

The U.S. and Cuba signed a 1971 agreement under which each government
agreed to prosecute hijackers or return them to the other country.
Periodic tensions with Washington have pushed Cuba to suspend the deal
several times, but the communist government stopped giving new arrivals
sanctuary in 2006, returning a handful Americans who fled to avoid
prosecution in recent years. The U.S. still labels Cuba a state sponsor
of terrorism, largely because of its sheltering fugitives.

"They accuse Cuba of harboring terrorists," Potts said. "I happen to be
a terrorist who wants to go back to face the charges pending against me."

Potts, 56, said he was buoyed by the case of a fellow hijacker who
returned to the U.S. and saw a long sentence reduced because of time
served in Cuba.

It's far from clear that Potts has correctly assessed his legal options.

Other fugitives returning from Cuba have been aggressively prosecuted.
U.S. citizen Luis Armando Pena Soltren returned to the United States
from Cuba in October 2009 to face charges of conspiracy to commit air
piracy, interfering with a flight crew and kidnapping in a case linked
to Puerto Rican independence militants.

Pena Soltren pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Potts lives in a modest two-bedroom apartment with a neatly kept front
garden in a Cold War-era apartment block on the outskirts of Havana.
He's divorced from the mother of his two children, a math professor, but
they still live together and consider themselves married.

The U.S. Interests Section in Cuba gave passports to their daughters, 12
and 9, last year and Potts sent them to live with his family in the
Atlanta area. His older daughter is named after Assata Shakur, aunt of
slain rapper Tupac Shakur, and a member of the Black Liberation Army who
was serving life in prison when she was broken out by armed friends,
surfacing in Cuba in 1984. She is believed to remain a free woman here
and Potts has reported seeing her at events in Havana.

He said he's still hopeful about changing the world, even though his
previous attempts went wrong. He's now hoping to raise money in the U.S.
to start a Muslim community farm in Cuba.

"I'm not the same person I was," Potts said. "The time has come to bring
this thing to an end. I know it's a risk (to go back to the US), but
it's a necessary risk. I'm hoping that something good can come of this."

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Source: "HAVANA: 29 years later, Cuba hijacker wants to go home -
Florida Wires -" -

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