Soon after President Obama announced the United States would normalize its relationship with Cuba, the questions started. “What happens to Assata? What happens to all of the U.S fugitives that have been granted asylum?” Gov. Chris Christie wasted no time in sending the President a letter demanding Shakur’s return before the United States resumed any relationship with the country.
In his letter to President Obama, Christie wrote:
“I urge you to demand the immediate return of Chesimard before any further consideration of restoration of diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. In addition, there certainly can be no review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism until Joanne Chesimard, a person designated by the FBI as a domestic terrorist, is returned to the United States.”
Cuba officials quickly responded to Christie’s stern letter. Josefina Vidal, the head of Cuba’s North American affairs reiterated to the Associated Press, Cuba’s stance on granting political asylum:
“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. There’s no extradition treaty in effect between Cuba and the U.S.”
The short answer: No, we are not extraditing anyone whom was granted asylum in our country.
Here’s what we know about Assata Shakur:
Assata Shakur, born Joanne Chesimard was the first woman ever to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Before her murder conviction, she was accused of several crimes and arrested numerous times between 1971 and 1973 on charges ranging from bank robbery to the murders of police. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program targeted Shakur among many others during the late 60’s and 70’s.
The details from that night in 1973 on the New Jersey turnpike remain murky. What we do know is that Shakur along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped by State Trooper James Harper and Trooper Werner Foerster. There was an armed confrontation that left Zayd Malik Shakur and Trooper Foerster dead. Assata was shot in both arms and in the shoulder allegedly as she was surrendering.
She was convicted by an all-White jury of murder for the 1973 killing of State Trooper Werner Foerster. Shakur escaped prison in 1979 and reemerged in Cuba in the 1980s. She was granted political asylum in 1984. Acoli was sentenced to life in prison. He was granted parole in 2014.
In 2013, the FBI and New Jersey State Police offered $2 Million dollars for information leading to Shakur’s arrest.
Assata Shakur has gained a new legacy through hip hop since the 1980’s. Common penned “A Song For Assata” on his 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate and the Hands Off Assata campaign has been going strong for over 25 years. Given the history of the United States with political activists like Angela Davis and Shakur, we know that a fair trial for her in the 70s was unlikely. Shakur was unjustly convicted and remains in danger with the $2 million reward hanging over her head.
But with Cuba’s renewed stance on extradition, it looks like hands are off Assata.