In the wake of dictator Fidel Castro’s death, President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to reverse President Obama’s executive order “normalizing” relations between the United States and Cuba.
When Obama issued the order in December 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked for the return of Black Panther and convicted cop killer Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard. Shakur has been living in Cuba for three decades after killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. She was convicted of murder in 1977, escaped prison and in 1984, fled to Cuba. She is on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.
“I urge you to demand the immediate return of Chesimard before any further consideration of restoration of diplomatic relations with the Cuban government,” Christie wrote to Obama at the time. “If, as you assert, Cuba is serious about embracing democratic principles then this action would be an essential first step.”
The Cuban government responded to Christie’s request by saying they have the right to protect politically persecuted people inside their country and refused to turn over Shakur. Obama didn’t ask for her return as part of normalization, despite requests from a number of law enforcement organizations.
Cuba said Monday that it has a right to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives, the clearest sign yet that the communist government has no intention of extraditing America’s most-wanted woman despite the warming of bilateral ties.
Chesimard was granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped from the prison where she was serving a sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a gunbattle after being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Asked if returning fugitives was open to negotiation, Cuba’s head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press that “every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted. … That’s a legitimate right.”
The question now becomes whether the return of Shakur will be included in Trump’s better deal for Americans when it comes to Cuba. It should be noted the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Cuba, making the task more difficult.