The Washington Post

April 26, 1977


Hijacker Detests Cuba


By R. Gregory Nokes

Associated Press

            HAVANA—on Jan. 22, 1971, Garland Grant of Milwaukee, Wis.  Hijacked a Northwest Airlines jet and forced it to fly to Cuba in what he now looks back on as the “dark day of my life.”

            This week he started a new job sweeping floors in Havana hotel for about $100 a month.

            In between there were 5 ½ horrible years in Cuban prisons, he says, during which he lost an eye in a beating by prison guards.

            “I’ve been in this place six years, and I’m out of my mind.  Believe me, I’m all for the United States now.  I’d even ear a Nixon button,” he said.

            Grant said he was a member of the Black Panthers at the time he hijacked a Boeing 727 with 59 people aboard during a flight from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C.

            He said he wanted to go to Algeria, but was told the plane couldn’t cross the Atlantic.  He settled for Cuba.  News accounts at the time say no one was hurt in the hijacking.

            Grant, now 27, told his story while sitting with me on a park bench in downtown Havana.  He had approached me with his story.  His clothes were shabby and he looked around nervously as he talked.

            “I’m probably being watched.  Everybody here is too scared to say anything, but I’ve been (expletive) over so many times, I can’t be (expletive) over any more,” he said.

            “They can’t do anything more to me that they haven’t already done but put a bullet in my head,” he said. 

            He continually pulled pieces of paper from his pockets, as if to verify what he was saying.  There was a Cuban identify card showing his nationality as American and pieces of paper with addresses of where he lives and where he works.

            He said he changed his name to Jesus Grant Gelbard and that he lives in a Havana hotel with about 15 other hijackers.  He claims the other hijackers are as unhappy in Cuba as he is.  But he refused to identify them because “they might not like it.”

            “I just want to get back to the United States.  I’m living like a dog in Cuba,” he said.  He said blacks are treated badly.  “There are more racism problems here than in the worst parts of Mississippi.”

            Grant provided the address of his parents in Milwaukee.  In a telephone interview, his mother, Mrs. Ross Grant, and a sister, Rosetta, 28, said they knew he had been in prison and they knew he lost an eye.

            In the park in Havana, Grant said his main object in life now is to get out of Cuba, but he doesn’t know how.  He said he is trying to get help from the Swiss embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Cuba.  The United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations.

            He said he knows he would go to prison in the United States for the hijacking, but this doesn’t bother him.  “Just open my cell door, and I’ll walk in,” he said.

            His effort to return to the United States started about six months after he arrived in Cuba.  He says that is what has gotten him into the most trouble.

            At first, he said, he worked “digging ditches.”

            Then, he said, he was jailed for picketing the Cuban Ministry of the Interior and remained there for 2 ½ years without being charged.

            After his release, he said, he went to the Swiss embassy but was involved in some sort of altercation with embassy personnel.  He refused to say what happened.  The result, however, was a three-year sentence in prison on a charge of “disrespect for personnel of the Swiss embassy.”

            Grant said that while in prison in 1972 he began a hunger strike and the “guards worked me over.”  It was during this beating, he said, that he lost his eye.  He opened his shirt to show scars that he said were inflicted during beatings.

            The prison was at Guanhay, about 30 miles from Havana.  He said other hijackers were imprisoned there and also subjected to beatings.  Grant said one American was killed when “his head was bashed against a wall” by guards.

            He has been out of prison for nearly two months.

            Grant abruptly terminated the interview, saying he had to get back to the hotel or he would miss dinner.

            Although Grant said he left the United States because of trouble with police while “agitating” for the Black Panthers, his mother said she knew of no charges against him from his Panther days.

            She said Grant used to call her form Havana after he first arrived there, asking her to try to help him get back to the United States

            His family had not heard directly from him for about here years until several letters arrived last week.  In one letter he asked for his birth certificate, which he said he needed to get out of Cuba.

            Grant’s mother said she had been contacted recently be a representative of the U.S. State Department, who said her son needed money and indicated Grant “might be coming home in a few days.”  She said she sent some money for him via the State Department.

            Aundrea Lonon of the special consular services office of the State Department said the money was relayed to Grant via the Swiss embassy.  But she declined to say whether Grant might leave Cuba soon.

            Grant’s sister recalled:  “Before he went to jail, he used to call us every night.  He said he was unemployed and Cuba’s not what people think.  He told me he’d rather be in jail here than over there free.”