Latin America

Cuba returns US missile shipped to Havana by accident

Hellfire air-to-surface device was used during NATO training exercises in Spain

Cuban President Raul Castro waves goodbye towards the plane carrying Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirril on Sunday.
Cuban President Raul Castro waves goodbye towards the plane carrying Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirril on Sunday.Desmond Boylan / AP

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An inert Hellfire training missile belonging to the United States, which was mistakenly sent to Cuba from Europe in 2014, was returned to Washington on Saturday by authorities in Havana.

The US government had been trying to recover the missile for more than a year because it feared that its technology would be shared with countries such as North Korea or Russia.

But the thawing of bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States made it possible for the missile to be returned in one piece.

“We can say, without getting into specifics, that the inert training missile has been returned with the cooperation of the Cuban government,” said US State Department spokesman Mark Toner. In a statement, he credited the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of the US embassy in Havana, which allowed Washington to discuss with Cuba “'issues of mutual interest.”

The government of Raúl Castro also confirmed in a statement that the missile had been given to US officials on Saturday.

A Heillfire missile similar to one shipped to Havana by mistake.
A Heillfire missile similar to one shipped to Havana by mistake.Getty

Cuba explained that the missile had was shipped to the island as a result of an “error or mishandling in its country of origin.” It was discovered during a routine customs check of a cargo plane that had arrived from Paris in June 2014.

The 40-kilo Hellfire, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is a laser-guided, air-to-surface missile which can be used in helicopters or drones.

The United States sent it to Europe to be used in NATO training exercises in Spain. Lockheed Martin had sent it to Rota military base in Cádiz from Orlando, Florida with the State Department’s approval.

After it was used in the NATO training, the missile, which did not contain any explosives, was transported by land from Cádiz to Madrid. It was supposed to be shipped to Frankfurt where it would continue on a journey to Orlando.

But for some unknown reason, the missile was placed on board an Air France flight to Paris, where it was later shipped on another flight to Havana, where it would remain for more than a year.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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