The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 31, 1999
Havana Is Haven for Fugitive '70s Hijacker

                  By Serge F. Kovaleski
                  Washington Post Foreign Service
                  Tuesday, August 31, 1999; Page A07

                  HAVANA—Strolling through a farmers' market in his Havana
                  neighborhood on a recent morning, Charlie Hill abruptly made a beeline
                  toward one of the stalls, where a mound of large carrots sat on a wooden

                  "Man! I got to buy some of these. They don't have them year-round. Look
                  at these carrots, man. I am going to go crazy on these," the Illinois native
                  exclaimed before purchasing several and setting his eyes on another rarity
                  at the market: beets. "I've got carrots, and now I'll get some beets to take
                  home, man. This is great."

                  Given the scarcities here, getting carrots and beets can seem important in
                  Cuba. And Hill has come to know the island well. He is living here in a
                  self-imposed exile that began on a November night 27 years ago when he
                  and two other members of the Republic of New Afrika separatist
                  movement emerged from a desert ditch and hijacked a TWA 727 at
                  gunpoint from an airport in Albuquerque to Havana.

                  Hill, 49, is one of a half-dozen American hijackers and other fugitives from
                  the 1970s still in Cuba, part of a total of 84 U.S. citizens wanted by the
                  FBI who have sought refuge on the Caribbean island over the years. He
                  lives a life in Havana that he says is free of compunction but not loneliness
                  and homesickness. He owns a ramshackle, one-bedroom apartment with
                  no telephone that the government allowed him to buy 14 years ago, he
                  purchases much of his food and other staples using state-issued ration
                  tickets and he is a morning regular at the local bakery.

                  Like all Cubans, he has access to free health care and carries a Cuban
                  identification card. He has a Cuban girlfriend and a 13-year-old daughter
                  from a previous relationship.

                  Hill, who sometimes uses the name Fela Olatunji from his activist days,
                  speaks Spanish with Cuban flair, using colloquialisms unique to this
                  Caribbean island, and he has gone from being an atheist to a believer in the
                  Afro-Cuban religion known as Santeria. He chain-smokes Cuban
                  cigarettes and relies on infrequent, dilapidated and overcrowded buses to
                  get around the city.

                  "I often think, 'Yeah, my life could have been a whole lot better,' " he said,
                  "but it could have been a whole lot worse, too."

                  Hill and his two partners in the hijacking were being sought for the slaying
                  of a New Mexico state trooper who had stopped their car on a remote
                  highway. Authorities called the act coldblooded murder. Hill, while refusing
                  to divulge who pulled the trigger, claims it was self-defense and says that to
                  this day he has no remorse about the fact that the officer, Robert
                  Rosenbloom, lost his life at age 28.

                  "He had a real John Wayne attitude," Hill said during a series of interviews.
                  "He was also a racist. He was real stupid and that's what got him killed,
                  man." He added: "I have never felt guilty about that cop. I never think
                  about that dude. I wish the whole thing never happened, but I don't feel

                  Large numbers of hijackers from the period when commandeering
                  commercial jetliners reached epidemic proportions have returned to the
                  United States to serve prison terms. The number of hijackings decreased
                  after the Castro government began giving hijackers stiff sentences under a
                  1973 agreement with Washington.

                  But Cuba, which has criticized the United States for racial discrimination,
                  has long welcomed black radicals such as Huey P. Newton, one of the
                  founders of the Black Panther Party who lived in Havana for several years
                  as a fugitive. Assata Shakur--a Black Liberation Army leader also known
                  as Joanne Chesimard who escaped from a New Jersey prison while
                  serving a life sentence for the murder of a state trooper--has lived in Cuba
                  with her daughter for the past 15 years.

                  Law enforcement authorities and some lawmakers in the United States
                  have sought to have Hill returned to face charges that are punishable by
                  death. Their efforts, however, have been unsuccessful, since he is in effect
                  shielded from extradition by the hostility between Cuba and its capitalist
                  neighbor to the north.

                  "He is no different from a common, cowardly thug attempting to avoid
                  prosecution for the murder of a police officer and the hijacking he
                  committed. . . . It repulses me that he would disparage the memory of a
                  fine husband, father and police officer," said Darren White, secretary of the
                  New Mexico Department of Public Safety.

                  One of Hill's two accomplices, Michael Finney, formerly of San Francisco,
                  still lives in Havana and works in a state media job. The third suspect,
                  Ralph Lawrence Goodwin of Berkeley, Calif., reportedly drowned in
                  1973 while swimming at a beach outside Havana.

                  Hill said that Cuba was supposed to be a "pit stop" to Africa, but the three
                  fugitives stayed. First, they worked cutting sugar cane. "We definitely had a
                  connection with the Cuban revolution, and we heavily related to Fidel and
                  Che," he said, referring to Cuban President Fidel Castro and revolutionary
                  leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara. "The revolution was real, man, and we felt
                  like we were part of the struggle."

                  Notwithstanding book titles like "Fidel and Malcolm X" that line his living
                  room shelves or a favorite T-shirt emblazoned with the words "The Black
                  Holocaust," much of the revolutionary fervor he had as a member of the
                  Republic of New Afrika is gone as he lives a mundane life doing translation
                  and hanging out with friends.

                  "I have lost the revolutionary zeal, but not the principles," he said.

                  For all the familiarity that Hill has developed with Cuban life over the years,
                  he is clearly a man who at times struggles with his outsider status and
                  exudes a wistful sense of nostalgia for the things he likes most about the
                  United States. He spends much of his free time by a radio next to his bed
                  listening to news shows or professional sports games broadcast on stations
                  he can tune in from Florida, Georgia, Texas, New York and Illinois.

                  "There are still things I miss spiritually about the United States. I also miss
                  things like just going to a party, man, and American sense of humor and my
                  spare ribs," he said. "I would love to have the opportunity to go back
                  because I was born there. It is my country. But I would also like to be able
                  to come back to Cuba because it is in my blood, too."

                  Hill has battled with alcohol problems over the years, drinking more than a
                  large bottle of rum a day during a period when he felt "out of contact and in
                  a slump."

                  "Privately, I think, he suffers from the isolation," said Hill's girlfriend, Raiza
                  Marques, 30. "Sometimes, he suffers from pain in his heart and mind."

                  Hill, who says he is a Vietnam veteran who was discharged for leaving his
                  unit, also has had his share of problems with the law here. He was arrested
                  in 1979 for falsifying currency receipts and served 14 months of a
                  four-year sentence. In 1986, he was jailed for eight months for possession
                  of a marijuana cigarette.

                  Nevertheless, Hill said he holds no grudges against the Cuban government,
                  to which he feels indebted for allowing him to build a new life. As for his
                  daughter, Hill hopes to get her a U.S. passport so she can live in the
                  United States if she chooses.

                           © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company