President Obama is facing growing criticism for failing to mention, at least publicly, the dozens of fugitives given safe haven by Cuba, including high-profile accused and convicted cop killers.
Gov. Chris Christie has joined the chorus of complaints, urging the president to demand the return of Joanne Chesimard, convicted of the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper.
Also known as Assata Shakur, the black liberation militant was convicted of the first-degree murder of Trooper Werner Foerster, but escaped prison in 1979 and later fled to Cuba.
In a strongly worded letter prior to Obama's visit to the Communist island nation last week, the president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association accused the U.S. president of forgetting about the fugitives.
New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez is focused on another case — that of Charlie Hill — her communications director said in a statement. Hill was also a black liberation militant, and is accused of murdering a state trooper and hijacking an airplane.
She, too, criticized Obama after his trip for failing to press that case.
In a March 24 op-ed in The Record (New Jersey) newspaper, Gov. Christie said the president drew attention to the restored relations with his trip, but “without any mention of the fugitives harbored by Cuba.”
“I urge the president to do what common sense and decency requires,” wrote Christie, “[namely,] that he demands the return of convicted murder Joanne Chesimard, who stands remorseless and free after the cold-blooded, execution-style killing of a New Jersey state trooper and the serious wounding of another.”
Chesimard is on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted terrorists list. She is the aunt of murdered rapper Tupac Shakur.
In a letter to the White House on behalf of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, president Christoper Burgos claimed the president and his administration has forgotten about the fugitives, believed to number in total around 70.
“I implore you to demand the return of these fugitives to U.S. soil to face justice, including one of America's Most Wanted, Joanne Chesimard.” Burgos wrote.
“She has yet to serve out her full sentence for this brutal crime , and it is only right that Chesimard, as well as the others being protected by the Cuban regime, be returned, before the store is given away.”
The relatives of the victims “have been slapped in the face over and over with the conduct of the Castro regime, providing cover for these despicable human beings,” Burgos wrote.
“It is with great disappointment to date that you have given the Castro dictatorship priority, while those that uphold the constitution, enforce the rule of law and our rights are ignored here at home. You have the power to change that, bring those U.S. fugitives and Chesimard back home to face justice.”
Charlie Hill is accused of killing New Mexico Patrolman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971 after the police officer stopped his vehicle on an isolated road in the state. He and two accomplices escaped following a high-speed chase, and later hijacked a plane, forcing the pilot to take them to Cuba. The two other fugitives are both dead.
In an interview with CBS last year, Hill denied shooting Rosenbloom, but said he remains a revolutionary.
“Gov. Martinez is focused on bringing this long-time fugitive ... back to New Mexico to face trial and give a jury the opportunity to decide his guilt based on the facts of the case,” the governor’s communications director, Chris Sanchez, said.
“The governor requested the help of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Justice in bringing closure to the family of a New Mexico State Police officer who was gunned down in the line of duty by fugitives.”
Sanchez added that Hill faces active felony charges of murder and hijacking in both federal and state courts.
In December 2014, following the announcement of thawing of relations with Cuba, Martinez sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to make the issue of the fugitives, including Hill, a priority.
In a reply, Secretary of State Kerry said his department, the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies have worked closely with each other to seek the return of fugitives.
“Over the longer term, we hope re-establishing diplomatic relations will allow us to more effectively press Cuba on this and other important interests and provide further opportunities for increased law enforcement cooperation,” Kerry said.
In a letter to Congress in January last year, President Obama wrote: “Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement dialogue with the United States that will include discussions with the aim of resolving outstanding fugitive cases.”
The president has asked Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba.
Ted Piccone, a Cuba expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told The Record newspaper he was not surprised that Obama did not publicly discuss the status of the fugitives.
Piccone suggested there may be some progress based on Obama’s announcement that U.S. and Cuban officials had privately discussed greater law enforcement cooperation.