Cuba Returning Assata Shakur? A No-Go

When President Obama moved to thaw out decades of Cold War animus between the island country of Cuba and the United States, one of the points of contention was that of fugitive Assata Shakur. Shakur fled to Cuba a few years after being imprisoned in the United States over a 1973 murder case involving the death of  New Jersey police officer. She’s been on the FBI’s wanted list for years, but no mention of Shakur’s fate was in the president’s address.

Now one Cuban official is making it clear: The former Joanne Chesimard, 67, isn’t going anywhere. Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Yahoo News, “it is off the table.”

Naturally, this decision has not set well with those who’ve longed to bring Shakur home to face justice and consider the former Black Liberation Army member a terrorist.

Cuba’s decision to provide sanctuary for Chesimard “is an intolerable insult to all those who long to see justice served,” including members of the slain New Jersey state trooper’s family, Menendez wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week. In an emailed statement to Yahoo News on Monday, Menendez said Chesimard is a “cop killer” and her return should be “a top agenda” item before any further concessions are made to the Castro government.

But as Cuba and the United States negotiate their way to better relations, both sides must wade through histories of harboring fugitives and imprisoning others based on ideologies, espionage and years of bad relations.

Some U.S. officials have called Chesimard herself a terrorist, given her background with the Black Liberation Army. The group, an outgrowth of the Black Panthers, was linked to a string of bombings, bank robberies and murders of police officers during the 1970s. In Chesimard’s case, she and two accomplices were accused of gunning down New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster after he pulled them over for a moving violation.

But Machin said the U.S. is harboring its own terrorists involved in attacks in Cuba, most prominently Luis Posada Carriles — who is, he said, a “free man” in Miami. Posada, who once worked for the CIA, was charged in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, but later escaped from jail and was accused by the Cubans of orchestrating a spate of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997.

“From the Cubans’ point of view, the U.S. is harboring true international terrorists, and Luis Posada Carriles is a case in point,” said Peter Kornbluh, co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”

“But I don’t think another swap,” of Chesimard for Posada, “is in the works,” Kornbluh added. “Fidel Castro gave her asylum, and those decisions are not going to be reversed.”