HAVANA TIMES —.William Graham Potts, a US citizen, hijacked a plane in 1984 and came to Cuba seeking military training. Contrary to what he expected, he was sent to prison for fifteen years.
Over a decade earlier the US and Cuban governments had reached an agreement to stop the hijackings from the US to Cuba, which had occurred by the dozens in the 1960s and early 1970s.
After his release from prison, Potts, 56, has remained in Cuba. While still a supporter of the Revolution, today he wants to go home to the USA for a visit. This is part 2 of his interview with HT.
HT: What do you think about the changes taking place in our country now?
William: I don’t like them. There is a rush towards capitalism. It seems the government has no socialist solution to the problems in their heads. Their solution is what they are doing in the States. After two generations of sacrifices, of doing more for less, and their great solution now is taxes? We have nothing to tax. The essence of this place stopped being revolutionary a long time ago.
HT: But there are more economic liberties. People can open more private businesses.
William: They are doing that to tax people. They have a love-hate relationship with the United States. They want everything they have and do everything they do. You can see that even in artists.
HT: But people’s right to travel abroad is being almost recognized by the government.
William: People always had that right. What they fail to realize is that the great obstacle wasn’t this government, but the other countries’ authorities, which decided Cubans could not go there. I worked in emigration for two years, when I was a prisoner.
HT: Do you know our government could decide whether a citizen had the right to leave the country temporarily? People needed its permission to travel. What do you think about that?
William: I can’t agree with that. But given the peculiar conditions of Cuba, the other governments establish very strict criteria for Cubans, because they know there would be mass exodus.
HT: And why would there be a mass exodus of Cubans?
William: Because, the United States, for instance, say they will let 25000 people go there, but when people try to go they say “no”. It’s all part of the destabilization process and the political games they play with people’s lives. That’s when Fidel said: “you wanna play games, let’s play games, I won’t watch your borders anymore”.
HT: But why do people want to leave the country? Something must be wrong when people even risk their lives to leave.
William: That is how the US operates. They know they can’t beat Cuba in the battlefield, so they make it hard for the people, they blockade and they make sure Cubans can’t progress. But when you give people what they want, they all come back and bring money and have their businesses here and help their families. The Cuban government has finally realized that and has invited everyone who left to come back and bring their money.
HT: And you don’t like that.
William: I don’t like it in the sense that “los traidores de ayer son los heroes de hoy” (The traitors of yesterday are the heroes of today).
HT: Why are they traitors?
William: Because the government called them traitors. I don’t believe they were, not all of them. They had the stones to say I will live my life my own way. It seems they made the right decision because they are officially invited back. But what about the people who stayed and sacrificed, who supported the government? There is nothing for them.
HT: You said our government seems to lack any socialist ideas to save the country. Do you have any?
William: Agriculture. In fifty years of Revolution, you can’t feed the old people and provide a decent snack at school. The US doesn’t blockade the land and the water. Food should not be a problem. Instead of copying what the yumas (foreigners) do, we should focus on our own solutions. That’s what the Revolution was about initially. But it is completely overturning. If you feed the old people and the children, the people will be loyal and support you.
HT: Don’t you think these generations will have different aspirations?
William: They certainly do. These generations of spoiled young people who finish university and are professionals want offices, desks, secretaries, computers and do what professionals do: nothing. They despise any other kind of work. In socialism every job is worthy of respect.
And how do they satisfy the demands of all these young professionals? They create new state bureaucracy to tax the people who never had anything to tax, to pay the salaries of these misguided young people and give them offices.
It is important to inculcate people the importance of food production. Not just a show and politic rhetoric. That’s why I don’t believe so much in politics anymore. I’m a Muslim. In this communist ideology, they see where they want to go, but in fifty years they haven’t got there. Communism and Islam are incredibly compatible. The difference between a communist and a real Muslim is that a Muslim says: “There is no god but God”. A communist would never say that.
HT: In the interview with the CNN you said you want to travel to the United States to see your family and to apologize to the passengers of the plane you hijacked. You say you are willing to face justice too.
William: Because I know I can win. I have completed my time. Cuba and the US signed bilateral agreements specifically on this crime. So, even though Cuba sympathized with my cause they had to punish me.
HT: In the CNN interview, you say you have written letters to the US Interests Section in Cuba and the Attorney General’s Office in Miami, without receiving an answer. Why?
William: They don’t have a case they can win. Second, they have Cuba on a list of countries giving sanctuary to terrorists. I’m technically a terrorist. But nobody is giving me sanctuary. They give me every chance to go. All I need is a travel document from the US. It is illegal to keep me from going to my country. I began this process last year and I still don’t have my document, which would allow me to go only to the States. They are making Cuba my prison.
HT: What do you think about your government including Cuba in this list of countries harbouring terrorism?
William: I question their legitimacy to put people in lists. There is no greater sponsor of terrorism than the US. They seem to have a divine right to terrorize others. They use any pretext and lie to screw other countries.
HT: Are there any other American refugees in Cuba, who hijacked planes and didn’t go to prison?
William: Yes, and that’s why my situation is better than theirs. I was sanctioned. In theory I can go home.
HT: So these other people justify the inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries sponsoring terrorists.
William: I don’t think that’s justification. Every country has the option to extradite or not. If they believe your life is in danger they won’t force you to leave.
HT: If you can return to your country and win your case, would you like to stay there?
William: No, I’m coming back to Cuba.
HT: But you haven’t become a Cuban citizen. Why?
William: No piece of paper will make me more of a Cuban citizen than I am already, after living here 29 years. There is no advantage to it. The only thing I would like to do as a Cuban is to buy a finca (farm).
HT: What do you think about the racial issue in your country now? Is it better for black people than it was when you left?
William: I don’t think the problem is racism anymore, but the assimilation, by the negros, of the American system. There was a time when negros were in the vanguard of the social struggle in the States. Those times are gone. Now there is a bunch of political ignorant negros that have been assimilated. Capitalism is about collapsing. You see the struggle from coast to coast, the indignados (occupy movement). In the States too. And there you have the conditions for the advent of the first black president in the United States.
HT: I was going to ask your opinion about him?
William: He was one of my favourite black Americans, and I don’t have many because they are so politically unconscious. They are unable to recognize that the system is inherently bad. Obama certainly isn’t ignorant. We had hopes for him, even here in Cuba. We thought he would be the one who normalized this crazy situation between both countries, at least. Cuba has demonstrated with their guataquería that they are ready to have normal relations. But Obama was more of the same, a disappointment. But the American negros are happy. It doesn’t matter that he is following the same policies of who has been recognized to be the stupidest president of American history. I don’t have any hopes for him anymore.
HT: What about the case of Travyon Martin, killed by a citizen who was found not-guilty in trial?
William: Nothing new. It happens every day there.
HT: I know you are writing a book about your life, could you tell me and the readers about it?
William: Actually, it’s a screenplay. The book could come later. I think it is a fascinating story, a story for our times. It is about the United States, Cuba and black Americans. I am just the vehicle through which these things come out. It is ultimately positive. I believe the Revolution is mature enough to undergo hard criticism en la cara (directly). I’m not afraid. Years before, I wouldn’t have this conversation. Now, I would tell Fidel what I am telling you.
HT: Best of luck with your film and with your trip to the States.