A New Jersey state police group is urging the Transportation Department not to resume scheduled airline flights to Cuba until a fugitive convicted of killing a trooper with a $1 million reward on her head is returned to U.S. prison from Cuba.
The department is collecting airline proposals and comment about restoring scheduled flights to the island for the first time since 1963. But the president of the State Troopers Fraternal Organization of New Jersey, Christopher Burgos, opposed the move in a letter Feb. 17 until dozens of fugitives are returned to justice in the U.S.
“We strongly oppose any request or approval of United Airlines or any other airline a permit to NJ Port Authority airports to fly back and forth to a country such as Cuba, that has openly slapped all Americans in the face with their policy of keeping U.S. fugitives away and safe from the reach of U.S. justice,” Burgos wrote.
He was referring to Joanne Chesimard, who is also known as Assata Shakur, was convicted in 1977 of killing Trooper Werner Foerster on May 2, 1973, during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
At the time of the traffic stop, Chesimard, who was a member of the Black Liberation Army, was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery, according to the FBI. She and accomplices opened fire on the troopers, wounding one and killing Foerster at point-blank range, according to the FBI.
Chesimard was sentenced to life in prison, but she escaped in 1979, according to the FBI.
She was spotted in Cuba in 1984 and is presumed to be still living there, according to the FBI, which has a $1 million reward for her as one of the country’s most wanted terrorists.
The House and Senate each unanimously passed resolutions in 1998 calling on Cuba to return Chesimard to U.S. prison.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrote President Obama a letter Dec. 18, 2014, urging Obama to insist on Chesimard’s return before restoring diplomatic relations. Christie called Cuba’s safe harbor to a convicted killer of a police officer an affront to every resident of New Jersey.
Other fugitives from the U.S. thought to be living in Cuba include:
— Victor Manuel Gerena, who the FBI put on its most-wanted list with a $1 million reward in connection with the armed robbery of $7 million in 1983 from a Connecticut security firm.
— Cheri Laverne Dalton, also known as Nehanda Abiodum, who is wanted by the FBI with a $100,000 reward on charges for an armored-car robbery in 1981 that resulted in the loss of $1.6 million and the deaths of two police officers and a security guard.
— William “Guillermo” Morales, who is wanted by the FBI with a $100,000 reward for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on charges he was a bomb-maker for a Puerto Rican independence group.
Since December 2014, the U.S. and Cuba have each opened embassies in each other’s countries. Business links have been growing. Obama plans a visit March 21 and 22.
The White House said the return of fugitives from Cuba is a long-standing concern that will be addressed in the broader context of normalizing relations between the countries. Officials from the two countries held a law-enforcement dialogue Nov. 9 in Washington and more meetings are expected during the first half of this year. The U.S. continues to seek the return of fugitives and repeatedly raised those concerns with the Cuban government, the White House said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Feb. 16 with his Cuban counterpart to allow up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba. The scheduled flights could begin as early as fall, after the department reviews proposals from rival airlines for 20 slots in Havana and 10 slots in each of nine other cities. Applications are due by March 2.