During the early 1960’s, Erwin Harris sought to collect $429,000 in unpaid bills from the Cuban government, for an advertising campaign promoting Cuban tourism. Holding a court order from a judge in Florida and accompanied by local sheriff’s deputies, he searched the East Coast of the United States for Cuban property. In September 1960, while Fidel was at the United Nations on an official visit, Harris found the Britannia that Castro had flown in to New York. That same day the front page of The Daily News headlined, “Cuban Airliner Seized Here.”
Erwin Harris continued by seizing a C-46, which was originally owned by Cuba Aeropostal and was now owned by Cubana, as well as other cargo airplanes. He seized a Cuban Naval vessel, plus 1.2 million Cuban cigars that were brought into Tampa, Florida, by ship. In Key West, Harris also confiscated railroad cars carrying 3.5 million pounds of cooking lard destined for Havana. All of these things, excepting the Britannia, were sold at auction.
Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, replaced the airplane that had been confiscated. On September 28th, Castro boarded the Soviet aircraft at Idlewild Airport smiling, most likely because he knew that his Britannia airplane would be returned to Cuba due to diplomatic immunity.
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