As reported in an earlier post, in June 2014, an U.S. Hellfire inert missile arrived in Cuba by an erroneous or criminal diversion from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. The missile is a laser-guided, air-to-surface weapon that weighs about 100 pounds and that can be deployed from an attack helicopter or an unmanned drone. This diversion came to the public’s attention via a January 7, 2016, report in the Wall Street Journal.
A month later, on February 13, 2016, the missile was returned to the U.S. The same day an U.S. State Department spokesman said that the missile “has been returned with the cooperation of the Cuban government” and that the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries had allowed the U.S. to engage with Cuba on “issues of mutual interest.” Further details were not available, said the spokesman, due to restrictions under U.S. law and regulations.
The same day the Cuban government confirmed the return of the missile. It said that its customs inspectors had discovered the missile while conducting a routine inspection of cargo on a flight that had arrived from Paris in June 2014 due to “error or mishandling” by persons in France. “For Cuban authorities, the arrival in the country of a U.S.-made military equipment that hadn’t been declared as such on the cargo manifest was worrying.”
Thereafter, according to the Cuban government, the missile was “duly conserved and taken care of.” Once the U.S. government officially had informed the Cuban government that the missile had ben shipped to Cuba by mistake and that the U.S. wanted the missile returned, Cuban commenced proceedings to return the missile.
Although the return is good news for the U.S., there are still serious unanswered questions:
- What caused the diversion of the missile from France to Cuba? Error by airline or freight forwarders’ employees? Or intentional criminal act by unknown persons? Or act of espionage by unknown country or agency?
- Why did it take roughly 20 months for Cuba to return the missile?
- What happened with the missile during those 20 months?
- What did Cuba mean when it said that the missile had been “duly conserved and taken care of”?
- When and how did the U.S. advise the Cuban government that the missile had been shipped to Cuba by mistake and request its return to the U.S.?
- What was said and by whom in the discussions or negotiations for the return of the missile?
 Assoc. Press, Cuba Returns Inert Hellfire Missile to U.S., N.Y. Times (Feb. 13, 2016); Reuters, U.S. Recovers Hellfire Air-to-Ground Missile from Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 13, 2016); Statement of the MInistry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba (Feb. 13, 2016).