US Fugitives in Cuba: A Thorny Issue for the Diplomatic Thaw

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.

Frank Terpil, ex-CIA agent and a fugitive of US justice. Photo:

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.

Luis Posada Carriles is a fugitive of Cuban justice living in Miami.

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.

19 thoughts on “US Fugitives in Cuba: A Thorny Issue for the Diplomatic Thaw

  • WikiPedia? That probably was written, not fact checked by anyone. Have you noticed no one in congress has cared about the statehood fraudulent intepretation of the vote. Only outsiders but the experts undertood the vote. of the 1,028,268 voters only 44% chose statehood, the other alternatives were an anti statehood vote. In 1993, stethood won 46.35 2012, 44%. The only sure thing is that people want a change from the colonial status (by the way the other formulas like free association are people who want more independence but still some more equal relationship), not the slavery of statehood. The death of our culture and language, we fought for that before when the US imposed english, when the US used our island of Vieques for target practice, etc we have won every battle for autonomy and independence. From the Congressional Research Office “The significance of the plebiscite remains to be seen, however, particularly because in the same election in which voters arguably endorsed a
    change in the status quo and favored statehood (qualified among three options, and the protest vote was called by the Commonwealth supporters who also don’t want statehood), they also voted out the pro-statehood incumbent governor and former Resident Commissioner, Luis Fortuño, as well as majorities in the territorial
    legislature believed to be generally supportive of statehood.” So people support statehood and they vote out the Pro-Statehood governor and legislators? PR is complex, 115 years of colonialism has created the quagmire.Now we have the support of CELAC, most of Latin America.

  • I don’t know where you get your figures, but according to Wikipedia, in the 2012 referendum 61.16% voted for statehood, 33.34% for staying as is, and 5.49% for independence.

  • The conventions USA uses as toilet paper in Guantanamo, Abu Graib etc etc…..Oscar Lopez Rivera a Boricua political prisoner for 33 years!!!! By the way, charge is only conspiracy….there are murderes that get less than 50 years…

  • Haha! Where do you get your information? Fox new? 54% of Boricuas voted against statehood, statehoo had the lowest percentage of votes since the 1990s?

    You must be tuned to radio bemba vendepatria…haaa!

  • The Castros are willing to have Puerto Ricans fight America to the last drop of their blood. But the majority of Puerto Ricans prefer to join the US as the 51st state.

  • Dumb comment? I refer you to the Geneva Conventions:

    Protected persons

    ARTICLE 13 [ Link ]

    The present Convention shall apply to the wounded and sick belonging to the following categories:

    (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces

    (2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

    (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

    (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

    (c) that of carrying arms openly;

    (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

    (3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a Government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

    (4) Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civil members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization from the armed forces which they accompany.

    (5) Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions in international law.

    (6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

    If you bother to read the Geneva Conventions, and understand what they mean, you can see that combatants who are protected by the Conventions are regular military (in uniforms, with insignia, and in recognized ranks), and popular militias who respect the rules of war.

    Clearly, ISIS does not respect the rules of war, given the routinely execute civilians. Therefore, not protected by the GC.

    Now let’s apply it to your examples: FARC? Uniforms & ranks, but does not respect the rules of war. Therefore, not protected by the GC.

    In Vietnam, the NVA wore uniforms, with ranks & insignia, and generally respected the rules of war. Therefore protected by the GC. The Viet Cong, did not wear standard uniforms, but they did wear a regular mode of indigenous dress, and were “recognizable at a distance”, and usually, but not in all cases, respected the rules of war. Therefore, also protected by the GC.

    Let’s look at a Cuban example: the rebels of the 26th of July Movement fighting against Batista. They wore military style clothing, often with an armband, had organized ranks, & generally respected the rules of war: therefore protected by the GC.

    The terms “terrorist”, “freedom fighter”, “war crimes” & etc. get tossed around so often, it’s useful to adopt a standard set of definitions for those terms. The Geneva Conventions does that. The validity of those terms is not contingent on whether or not one supports the goals of a given combatant. The validity is established by the actions of the combatants. If the combatants act as a regular army, then they are a regular army. If the act as lawful militias, they are lawful militias. But if they act as unlawful combatants, they are terrorists, and are not protected by the Geneva Conventions. By definition.

  • Unifroms make an army? FARC has uniforms, the FMLN had uniforms, the Vietnamese had uniforms and guess what ISIS has uniforms…dumb comment!

  • Yet they havent, no country has been more consistent with Puerto Rico than the Cuban Revolution….that is why we received them warmly in the Caribbean Series..even the Mayor of San Juan! She will visit Cuba soon!

  • The Castros would betray the Puerto Ricans in a heartbeat if they saw an advantage in it. They betrayed the Cuban people long ago.

  • George Washington lead a uniformed American colonial army against the British Army. That’s lawful warfare, not terrorism.

    William Morales was building bombs for use by violent militants who dressed as civilians and targeted civilians. By definition, that is terrorism. It doesn’t matter if you agree with their goals or not, it’s the nature of their actions which define them as terrorists.

  • Gerena did not kill anyone (by the way I guess George washington was also a terrorist?) William was also a freedom fighter.

  • It’s not a matter of comparing them as equivalent.

    The facts are that Victor Gerena participated in an armed robbery and William Morales was building bombs for use in terrorist attacks. They are both criminal fugitives. It is revealing that you are quite willing to excuse any sort of criminal activity if the people who committed it espoused your leftist philosophy.

  • He has already talked there are unclassified documents of his crimes and his boasting of them…

  • Comparing Posada Carriles a terrorist butcher with patriots like Victor Gerena (did not kill anyone) or William Morales is ludicrous. Cuba wiould never betray the Puerto Rican independence movement, ain’t gonna happen.

  • Good comments Griffin. I have done some research on the bombing of the Cuban Airline that killed 73 people including a bunch of teenagers that were on the Cuban fencing team. You are right the CIA and the Cuban Dissidents would have a problem if Posada were to talk.

  • The Cuban government says they want Posada Carriles to try him for his crimes. And to some extend, they do. But the Castro regime is also happy to see the old bugger alive and living in Miami. He’s a tailor-made villain, and perfect fodder for their propaganda.

    For the US, they wish he would just hurry up and die. They know he’s an embarrassment, but they won’t hand him over to the Castro’s. For one thing, legally they cannot do so without an extradition treaty. Secondly, Posada knows stuff which could prove awkward for the CIA & the US government.

  • The Carriles issue really is a bit of a disgrace. The evidence for his involvement in serious crimes in Cuba is extremely strong. But it’s hard to imagine the Americans ever handing him over.
    I wonder if either government actually cares terribly much about these aging fugitives though? I’d guess they both let it drop.

  • An extradition treaty is a long way off. Cuba would want the embargo fully repealed and immigration policy normalized before they hand that to the U.S. It is far to large of a leverage point to concede.

  • Now this is where the rubber hits the road. Issues like this will be very difficult and thorny, for both sides. If it is to happen, it will have to be done legally, which means Cuba and the USA will have to sign an extradition treaty.

    Maybe in Cuba, Raul can call his police to pick up so-and-so and put them on a plane back to the US. But in the USA, the President is constrained by the US Constitution, which stipulates everybody is entitled to due process. Due process will require an extraditions treaty and a hearing in which the case for extradition is presented. The accused will have the opportunity to argue against extradition. Only if the judge hearing the case agrees will the request for extradition be granted.

    Therefore, it is not a matter of Raul simply asking for Posada Carriles in exchange for handing over a passel of US fugitives. The rule of law matters.

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