Will Cuba become a fugitive haven? As President Obama attempts to restore diplomatic relations with the communist nation after more than 50 years of strife, one of the many issues to be addressed as the United States and Cuba seek to establish improved communication and cooperation is the issue of extraditing American fugitives from the Castro-run country.
Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) has asked President Obama to demand the return of a female fugitive convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper 41 years ago. The request was made in a letter that was sent to the White House on Friday, December 19, which was two days after Obama announced that he would move to normalize relations with the communist nation.
The fugitive in question, Joanne Chesimard, was a leader of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted of murder in the 1973 shooting, is believed to be living in Cuba under an assumed name and was granted political asylum by former Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro. The woman was granted a safe haven and asylum by the former Cuban leader after she escaped from prison, where she was serving a life sentence for killing the state trooper, following a gun fight on the New Jersey Turnpike. Chesimard, who is believed to be living under the alias, Assata Shakur, was apparently also wounded in the gun battle that killed the state trooper in 1973, and is the first woman ever named to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Most Wanted Terrorist” list.
Chesimard was convicted in the death of Werner Foerster, who was a New Jersey state trooper killed after he and another trooper stopped Chesimard and two others on the New Jersey Turnpike. The FBI maintains she and the two accomplices opened fire on the troopers, during which Trooper Foerster died and the other trooper was injured in the ensuing gun fight. In addition to being injured in the gun fight on the turnpike, Chesimard has maintained her innocence and called herself the victim of a racist judicial system. Moreover, her advocates have argued she was also a victim in the violence.
The American government believes there could be as many as 70 fugitives using Cuba as a haven who are wanted by American authorities. Following Obama’s announcement on Cuba, state officials in New Jersey rushed to announce their renewed hope that the woman listed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorist” list would be returned to the U.S. to serve out her sentence.
Asked if returning fugitives was open to negotiation, Cuban officials maintain that “every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted.” A remark which raises the question: Will Cuba become a fugitive haven? This is a central issue of contention as the U.S. attempts to restore diplomatic relations with the communist nation after more than 50 years of hostility and upheaval between the two nations. Although the issue of extraditing American fugitives is not the only concern on the agenda, it is one of several issues to be addressed as Obama and current Cuban Dictator Raul Castro seek to establish improved communication and cooperation after more than a half century of estrangement.
By Leigh Haugh
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