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Cuba Will Not Revoke Political Asylum for US Fugitives Who US Government Wants Extradited

Assata Shakur, who was given political asylum in Cuba

Cuba will not revoke political asylum for Americans, such as Assata Shakur, who have fled the United States, the Associated Press reports.

Since President Barack Obama announced a shift in US policy, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey state police and the FBI have seized upon the shift as an opportunity to force Cuba to return Shakur (also known as Joanne Chesimard) so she can finish her sentence. Shakur was convicted of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.

News media have called attention to other fugitives who are in Cuba. There are around 80 individuals the United States government could pressure Cuba to stop giving political asylum.

But the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s head of North American Affairs Josefina Vidal, who is the “point person on US relations,” declared, “Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted.”

“We’ve explained to the US government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum,” Vidal added.

There is an extradition treaty between the US and Cuba, however, the Cuba maintains that it is no longer in force.

The White House’s National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement that the Obama administration will “continue to press in our engagement with the Cuban government for the return of US fugitives in Cuba to pursue justice for the victims of their crimes.”

Lennox Hinds, Shakur’s lawyer, has asserted that Shakur never took an officer’s gun and shot a cop, executing the trooper “in cold blood.”

“If we look at the trial, we’ll find that she was victimized, she was shot. She was shot in the back. The bullet exited and broke the clavicle in her shoulder. She could not raise a gun. She could not raise her hand to shoot. And she was shot while her hands were in the air. Now, that is the forensic evidence. There is not one scintilla of evidence placing a gun in her hand. No arsenic residue was found on her clothing or on her hands,” Hinds said on “Democracy Now!” after the FBI placed her on the agency’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.”

In a larger context, Hinds explained that there are clear grounds to offer Black Panthers (or other revolutionaries), like Shakur, political asylum.

…There have been numerous individuals who have left the United States and went to foreign countries, allies of the United States, where those countries have refused to extradite them. France, for example, in the 1970s, there were Black Panthers who hijacked planes and went to France. Now, both France and the United States have extradition treaties. Not only that, France signed the 1963 Tokyo Convention, the 1970 Hague Convention and the 1973 Montreal Convention, with the United States. All of these are international agreements that require countries, host countries, that are holding individuals—who have hijacked planes—to extradite them or try them. France, after conducting their own independent review of these Black Panthers, refused to extradite them to the United States based upon France’s assessment that if they would be returned, they would be subject to political and racial repression. So, I say that the Cubans’ position is well grounded in international law…

In fact, presumably, fear of political repression is how the US government has justified not extraditing individuals, who the Cuban government has wanted to see prosecuted for their alleged involvement in terrorism.

Luis Posada Carriles, the mastermind behind the bombing of a Cuban airliner, entered the US in 2005. He was put on trial in El Paso, Texas, in 2011 for lying to immigration authorities about how he got into the country and his participation in terrorist attacks. In April of that year, he was acquitted.

Venezuela had pushed for his extradition. But, a US immigration judge ruled he could not “be sent to either country, for fear he could be tortured.” Part of what helped him escape extradition was the fact that he had connections to the CIA.

Orlando Bosch, who died in Miami in 2011, was an associate of Carriles. According to an article written by Time’s Tim Padgett after he died in 2011, “In the 1980s, after returning to the US, Bosch was arrested for his parole violation; but he was pardoned by then President George H.W. Bush in 1990 after pleading from Miami’s politically powerful Cuban exile leaders. Bush did so despite warnings from his own national security officials that Bosch was, as then Attorney General Richard Thornburgh has since said, ‘an unrepentant terrorist.’”

For Salon, Tristram Korten and Kirk Nielsen highlighted Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat. Alvarez allegedly “was on board a motorboat that strafed the shoreline of a Cuban fishing village in 1971 killing two men and wounding four others, including two young girls.”

He allegedly provided financial and military and other material support to Posada and other militants, including in April 2001 when Cuba captured “three Miami area residents after they clambered ashore with AK-47 assault rifles, an M-3 carbine fitted with a silencer and three semi-automatic Makarov pistols.”

In 2005 federal agents searched an apartment Alvarez kept north of Miami in Broward County and found a store of military hardware including an M-11 A1 machine gun, two Colt AR-15 assault rifles, a silencer, and a Heckler & Koch grenade launcher. Agents arrested Alvarez and his assistant, Osvaldo Mitat.

According to Peter Margulies, prosecutors could have considered charging Alvarez with providing material support for terrorist activity, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life. Instead, they charged Alvarez and Mitat with seven counts of illegal weapons possession.

Both pleaded guilty to one of the counts. The judge sentenced Mitat to about three years and Alvarez to just under four years. “While I have always been passionately interested in a free and democratic Cuba, I recognize that any conduct of mine must occur within the bounds of the law,” Alvarez stated at his sentencing. After the plea, Alvarez supporters, who were able to remain anonymous, brokered a deal with prosecutors through a lawyer. In exchange for even more weapons, including 200 pounds of dynamite, 14 pounds of C-4 explosives and 30 assault weapons, the judge further reduced Alvarez’s sentence to 30 months.

There are numerous people like Alvarez and Mitat, who are essentially a part of what could be considered terrorist training camps, where they plot attacks to bring about a second revolution.

“We’ve reminded the U.S. government that in its country they’ve given shelter to dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens,” Vidal also said in a statement. “Some of them accused of horrible crimes, some accused of terrorism, murder and kidnapping, and in every case the U.S. government has decided to welcome them.”

There is all this focus on revolutionaries who committed violent crimes but little acknowledgment of the fact that the CIA has had ties to militant Cuban exiles and the US government has looked the other way as exile groups plan how to overthrow the government Cuba.

Michael Daly of the Daily Beast wrote:

In announcing the end of the embargo, President Obama was clearly happy to announce that Americans visiting there will even be able to use their credit and debit cards.

The question is whether we will be doing so in a country that continues to shelter cop-killers and a terror bomber and a mass murderer.

How hypocritical is it to be outraged about this while not condemning the US government for sheltering terrorists who have planned attacks on Fidel Castro?

Is there even a complete roster of criminals being sheltered by Cuba to compare to a roster of criminals being sheltered by the US? Because it seems like the US has done far more harboring of violent criminals, mostly because doing so has typically meshed well with the US government’s agenda against Cuba.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."