HAVANA — On February 13, a ‘wrongly shipped’ inert US Hellfire missile was returned to the US after having been in Cuba since June of 2014. The ‘dummy’ missile that was not equipped with an active warhead or some of the guidance systems needed to make it operational, had been shipped from the US to Spain for a NATO training course. The missile was supposed to return to Florida, but after being sent from Spain to Germany and from there to France, the missile ended up on an Air France flight to Havana instead of back to the USA.

The laser guided AGM 114 Hellfire, manufactured by US company Lockheed Martin, is a air-to-ground missile primarily designed as an anti-tank weapon, but is now mostly being used in anti-terrorism operations, launched from helicopters or unmanned drones.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MinReX) said that the missile was first discovered when doing the routine cargo check of the Air France flight. “For Cuban authorities, the arrival in the country of US-made military equipment that had not been declared as such on the cargo manifest was worrying,” part of the statement read.

While Cuban government officials did not say when the official request for the return of the missile was made, the statement did add that “once the US government officially informed Cuba that the training missile, belonging to the company Lockheed Martin had been sent to out country by mistake and the US wanted to recover it, Cuba began proceedings to return the missile.”

On February 13, Mark Toner, the US State Department’s deputy spokesperson, said: “We can say, without speaking to specifics, that the inert training missile has been returned with the cooperation of the Cuban government.” However, this is close to 20 months after the missile initially arrived in Havana, Cuba.

Although more research is going into how the missile ended up in Cuba, rather than back in the USA, for now the incident has been named a ‘handling error,” and not as a deliberate action, or espionage.

Due to the only very recent thawing of the relations between Cuba and the US, there were concerns from US officials that the technology of the missile could have been shared with adversaries of the US, such as North Korea, China and Russia.

After more than 50 years, the US embassy was been re-opened in Havana in July of 2015. Both nations now look to rebuild economic and trade ties. As February 16 2016, the US has also reauthorised commercial air travel between the the two countries, with as many as 110 daily flights.

– Paul Carlsen, Correspondent (South America)

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