Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama ordered a full restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, including the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana. This decision was sought to move past some of the remnants and final “vestiges” of the Cold War. President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed the first trade embargo in 1960 and ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961. This unprecedented measure, according to President Obama, is potentially ending “an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.”
This “thaw” in relations between the two countries may have an effect on one political exile, Assata Shakur, who has been allowed protection from extradition back to the United States.
Assata Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, was a Black Panther activist who was charged with the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper in 1973 after she was shot twice during the stop. According to her memoir, Shakur was convicted of the murder in 1977 and spent the next two years incarcerated in the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey for a crime in which she still maintains her innocence. In 1979, after suffering deplorable acts and brutal conditions within the correctional facility, Shakur escaped and ultimately moved to Cuba, where she was granted asylum ((I.e. – protection given by a government to someone who has left another country in order to escape being harmed) by Fidel Castro. As shared on assatashakur.org Shakur
“……..I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Extradition is a legal process in which one authority, in this case the country of Cuba, is required by provisions of a treaty or statute to surrender an alleged criminal to the requesting country. After escaping the correctional facility in 1979, Shakur hid out for years before ultimately resurfacing in Cuba in 1984. As she was granted asylum by Cuba’s former leader, Fidel Castro, and due to the stalemate in diplomatic relations between the two countries, Shakur was able to live peacefully in Cuba without any potential consequences of extradition. Despite this asylum, New Jersey State authorities, and the FBI, have made countless attempts to extradite her back to the U.S. In 2013, she was the first woman named to the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list as she is still perceived, by the government, to be one of the greatest threats to the American government. New Jersey State authorities are holding hope that this “thaw” will ultimately lead to the capture of Shakur. Just recently, Governor Chris Christie wrote a letter to the White House asking for its assistance in capturing Shakur.
As noted in a recent article on America.Aljazeera.com “The extradition treaty between the U.S. and Cuba went into force on March 2, 1905 … and was never revoked,” Douglas McNabb, an international criminal defense lawyer, told Al Jazeera. “Of course, when diplomatic relations were terminated, from a practical but not legal standpoint the extradition ceased between the two. But now that diplomatic relations are being renewed, the existing treaty is still in force and will not have to be renegotiated.”
“Article six of the extradition treaty says a fugitive criminal shall not surrender if the offense is of a political character,” McNabb said. “Cuba could say we can’t extradite her based on that … we determined a long time ago that it was politically oriented and we gave her political asylum.”
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
If you are charged or convicted of a crime, yet flee to a different jurisdiction, whether it is another state or country, to avoid prosecution or serving a sentence, you may face extradition back to the original jurisdiction if said extradition request is supported by law. A statute or treaty, and the provisions within, will dictate if an extradition request will be granted or denied.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.