By Beatriz Juez (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Will Cuba hand over the dozens of fugitives from US justice who were allegedly taken in by the island? In the opinion of several US senators, that should constitute a prerequisite for the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana.
“The FBI believes there are more than 70 wanted fugitives residing in Cuba,” FBI spokeswoman Susan McKee told DPA.
McKee, however, did not want to share the names of these wanted persons or specify whether Washington will re-submit a formal petition requesting their extradition to the United States.
Democrat Senator Bob Menendez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio both sent letters to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to demand that Havana hand over the fugitives.
“The victims of these violent individuals, who are being openly harbored by Cuba’s dictatorship, deserve justice prior to the full normalization of relations, let alone before any consideration of removing Cuba from the State Department’s state-sponsors of terrorism list,” Rubio pointed out in his letter. Cuba has been included in this list since 1982.
The Cuban-American senator born in Miami also sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, signed by Republican senators David Vitter and Ted Cruz. In the letter, the three senators demand that Holder present Congress with an up-to-date list of all fugitives currently residing in Cuba and a copy of the charges against them.
They asked him: “Do you support the normalization of relations with Cuba without the return of fugitives from justice for prosecution who have the blood of Americans, including law enforcement officers, on their hands?”
It is one of the many thorny issues that exist between two countries that have been at odds with each other for decades. For a very long time, the communist island was a safe harbor for dozens of fugitives from US justice, as the countries’ ideological rivalry offered these fugitives a kind of protective umbrella.
The best known case is that of Joanne Chesimard, a Black Panther militant accused of murdering a New Jersey police officer.
African-American Chesimard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1977 and managed to escape from prison in 1979. Today, she is the only woman on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list. The reward for anyone who can offer information leading to her arrest is two million dollars. The FBI believes that Chesimard was offered political asylum in Cuba and lives on the island under the pseudonym of Assata Shakur.
Other fugitives believed to reside on the island are Frank Terpil, a former CIA agent accused of selling armaments to the late Libyan dictator Muamar al Gadhafi, and Victor Manuel Gerena, wanted for armed robbery and the theft of seven million dollars in Connecticut in 1983.
According to ABC News, Puerto Rican independence activist Guillermo “William” Morales, a member of the Puerto Rican National Liberation Armed Forces (FALN) accused of participating in terrorist actions in New York in the 1970s, is also residing in Cuba.
The island is also reportedly harboring Ishmael LaBeet, sentenced to life in prison for the murder of eight people on the Virgin Islands. In 1984, while being transported to New York by the police, LaBeet rerouted the commercial airliner (with 183 passengers and 12 crew members on board) to Cuba. The plane landed at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. The passengers were unharmed.
The situation appears to have changed over recent years, however. In April of 2013, the island quickly repatriated a Florida couple who had kidnapped their children after losing a custody battle and had arrived in the country by sea.
According to the information on the diplomatic thaw at our disposal, handing the Hakken couple over to US authorities may have coincided with the beginning of secret talks that led to the historical announcement in December of 2014.
Could the diplomatic rapprochement that began on December 17 change Cuba’s posture and pave the road to the return of the fugitives on the island?
It doesn’t seem likely. To date, Havana has refused to hand over fugitives it considers political prisoners (such as Chesimard, who Cuba maintains was not given a fair trial in the United States).
At any rate, Raul Castro’s government could also ask for something in return: for years, the island has been demanding that the United States extradite Luis Posada Carriles, accused of terrorism by Havana. Posada Carriles, who lives in Florida, is believed to be the author of the bombing of a Cuban airliner which killed more than 70 people in 1976.