In yet another sign that the Cuban government has no intention of changing its behavior towards the United States in response to President Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with the communist regime, the nation’s head of North American affairs asserted that it was Cuba’s “legitimate right” to harbor criminal fugitives on the island if it so wishes.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Josefina Vidal, who holds the North American affairs title, explained that the Cuban government had no intentions of returning certain individuals convicted of high crimes in the United States to American custody. “Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted… That’s a legitimate right,” she insisted. “We’ve explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum,” she added, noting that there is no relationship between the two nations that necessitates any extradition.
Extradition has become a pivotal question regarding President Obama’s decision to reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba. While the United States returned three Cuban spies– one convicted of conspiracy to murder— Cuba’s only concession in the White House deal with them has been to return USAID worker Alan Gross to the United States. Cuba continues to serve as a safe haven for an array of criminals– from the leaders of the multinational terrorist organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to American murderer Joanne Chesimard, the first woman to be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. Chesimard killed a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a gun battle, and arrived in Cuba after escaping from jail, having been issued a life sentence. She is believed to live freely in Cuba, her name even available in the phone book.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie sent a letter to President Obama this week demanding that the President call for the return of Chesimard to American hands. Her freedom, he wrote, “is an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, who have tirelessly tried to bring this killer back to justice.” While Vidal did not mention Chesimard by name, she insisted that Cuba had a right to grant “political” asylum to those American citizens who live there as a means of escaping American justice.
The White House has yet to respond publicly to Governor Christie’s letter. In a statement sent to ABC News last week, the United States Department of Justice said the government will “continue to press for the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba to pursue justice for the victims of their crimes in our engagement with the Cuban government.” ABC News notes that other criminals living in Cuba include a Puerto Rican separatist terrorists and several others accused of or convicted of murder.