Why Cuba will never send Assata Shakur to the U.S.
By Achy Obejas
In May 2013, on the 40th anniversary of her arrest, Assata Shakur was
suddenly and inexplicably named to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists
list, with an award of up to $2 million for her capture. She was the
first woman ever put on that list, but she gained that notorious
promotion at a time when she was doing little that could be conceived of
as criminal. Shakur, also known as Joanne Deborah Chesimard, was serving
a life sentence for murder when she escaped from prison in 1979. For the
last 30 years, she has been quietly living in Havana, occasionally
entertaining visitors in her modest apartment, writing and rarely
drawing attention to herself.
At the time Shakur made the Most Wanted Terrorists list, Aaron Ford,
special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark office, said, "While living
openly and freely in Cuba, she continues to maintain and promote her
terrorist ideology. She provides anti-U.S.-government speeches,
espousing the Black Liberation Army's message of revolution and terrorism."
In other words, even by FBI standards, Shakur was raised to terrorist
level on pretty shaky grounds: for speaking and writing, usually
protected activities. At the time, I speculated in an essay for WBEZ
that Shakur's addition to the FBI list might have been a way to pressure
Cuba to release U.S. Agency for International Development worker Alan
Gross. That was 19 months ago. Just this month, when President Barack
Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba were working to normalize
relations and that Gross would be released, he said the two countries
had been in secret talks for 18 months.
Not surprisingly, Shakur is back in the news. Gov. Chris Christie of New
Jersey, where Shakur was convicted of killing one state trooper and
grievously wounding another, has called for her extradition.
But Shakur will never go back to New Jersey or anywhere on American
soil, and it's not just because Cuba and the U.S. have no extradition
treaty. Both countries have inherent interests, ethical and not so
ethical, in allowing Shakur to die of natural causes in Havana.
The first is practical: If the U.S. makes a serious request for Shakur,
Cuba will undoubtedly counter with a request of its own for Luis Posada
Carriles. The 86-year-old, who has long ties to the CIA and its covert
activities in Latin America, is now living out his old age in Miami.
Among his crimes: He was convicted in Panama of the 1976 bombing of a
Cuban airliner that killed 73 civilians. He has been suspected of
planting bombs in Havana in 1997 (including one that killed an Italian
tourist). He was arrested in Panama for an attempt on Fidel Castro's
life but pardoned by the U.S.-supported president of that country in 2004.
Bringing Shakur to the U.S. may satisfy a whole lot of folks who are
outraged because a convicted cop killer is free, but she has little
intelligence value to the American government. Releasing Posada Carriles
to the Cubans, however, is a whole different story: The guy has had his
hands in everything from the Bay of Pigs to the Contra wars.
Though neither the U.S. nor Cuba — this would be a pre-Castro Cuba — is
a signatory to the United Nations' 1951 Convention on the Status of
Refugees, which covers political asylum, both have built curious
reputations for routinely offering asylum. (The U.S. is a signatory to
the update known as the 1967 Protocol, while Cuba has signed only the
Mexico Declaration and Plan of Action to Strengthen the International
Protection of Refugees in Latin America in 2004.)
Cuba has long been a haven for African-Americans who've committed what
might be interpreted as political crimes. Black Panthers such as
Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and Raymond Johnson all spent time in Cuba
in the 1960s (not always happily). At one time it was speculated that as
many as 90 African-Americans were living in Cuba under asylum. Indeed,
Shakur is not even the only one who's been on an FBI wanted list; Victor
Manuel Gerena has been on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list since 1984.
For Cuba, turning Shakur in to U.S. authorities would constitute a
betrayal of its long, very carefully cultivated relationship with the
African-American community, with the African diaspora and Africa itself.
Castro didn't just do photo ops with Malcolm X; under his leadership,
Cuba articulated a vision for the elimination of institutional racism
and attempted to dismantle it (though even he admitted this was not as
successful as he'd hoped), put men and women on the ground in several
wars of liberation in Africa, trained doctors from Africa for free
through its Latin American School of Medicine and, in recent years,
extended scholarships to the school through the Congressional Black
Caucus to U.S. students from underserved communities. (Of course, all
this has also resulted in tremendous tolerance by African and other
Third World countries of Cuba's human rights abuses.)
Returning Shakur to the U.S. would be an inconceivable 180 on the
principles that governed all that. And whatever Cuba's actual record on
more general ethical behavior, this is one issue on which it has never
Achy Obejas, born in Havana, Cuba, is a columnist for In These Times and
the author of five books.
Source: Why Cuba will never send Assata Shakur to the U.S. - Chicago