Kelly: For Menendez, a ‘ sense of urgency’ in gaining return of fugitive
cop killer Chesimard
FEBRUARY 3, 2015, 6:49 PM LAST UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2015,
BY MIKE KELLY
She is one of America’s most wanted fugitives — a name that continues to
surface in many discussions about the Obama administration’s plan to
restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. And yet, the fate of convicted
cop-killer Joanne Chesimard remains almost as mysterious as she is.
Chesimard, a member of the militant Black Liberation Army, broke out of
a New Jersey prison in 1979 after serving two years of a life sentence
for killing a state trooper in a turnpike gunfight. Now 67, she has
lived for the past three decades in Cuba after Fidel Castro granted her
political asylum and called her murder conviction “an infamous lie.”
President Obama’s attempt to open diplomatic doors with the Caribbean
communist dictatorship has sparked an intense campaign – mostly by
Republicans and law enforcement leaders — to bring Chesimard back to the
United States to serve her prison sentence. On Tuesday, that campaign
received a major lift in the U.S. Senate, but not from Obama’s usual
array of Republican critics or from law enforcement advocates.
It was New Jersey Democrat and erstwhile Obama supporter, Senator Robert
Menendez, who took the microphone at a Senate Foreign Relations
subcommittee meeting on Cuban policy to denounce the deal with Cuba,
which included the release of three Cuban spies who were imprisoned in
the United States.
Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who settled in Union City, has
previously denounced Obama’s Cuban overture and called for the return of
Chesimard, who now uses the name Assata Shakur. But Tuesday’s remarks by
Menendez were his harshest criticism yet of the Obama administration’s
“I’m concerned that we released a Cuban spy convicted of conspiracy to
commit murder,” Menendez said. “He gets to go back to Cuba and we can
get no movement on the dozens of U.S. fugitives living under asylum in
Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard.”
The senator added, “Why was her name not part of the deal?”
More than a month after Obama announced the breakthrough with Cuba and
said he planned to end a 50-year economic embargo on the Caribbean
nation, that question about Chesimard — as simple as it may seem – has
no clear answer.
On Tuesday, when asked by this columnist to respond to Menendez’s
comments, the White House issued the same vague statement,
word-for-word, that it released in December when first asked about
Chesimard’s status and whether she would be part of any diplomatic
“We 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,” said Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council
Chesimard is reportedly one of almost 70 U.S. fugitives living in Cuba.
She is the only one who was convicted and sentenced to prison for
killing a law enforcement officer. She is also on the FBI’s most wanted
terrorist list and has a $2 million bounty on her head.
In a telephone interview Tuesday after he spoke to the subcommittee,
Menendez said he has received similar vague answers from the White House
when he has raised questions about Chesimard.
“They don’t have the same sense of urgency that I have,” Menendez said
of the White House.
The senator said the apparent lack of urgency by the White House causes
him to occasionally wonder whether some White House staffers are even
aware of Chesimard’s notorious history with the Black Liberation Army
and her conviction for killing State Trooper Werner Foerster.
“I don’t know whether they institutionally remember it or not,” Menendez
said. “But it’s our job to remind them.”
One problem that has emerged in the discussions about Chesimard is
whether the Obama administration, in trying for a dramatic deal with
Cuba just before Christmas and the Republican takeover of the U.S.
Senate, may have squandered possible bargaining chips it could trade for
Menendez specifically pointed to the administration’s decision to
release three Cuban spies for the return of an American contractor who
was imprisoned by Cuban authorities. The United States reportedly
received one of its own spies who had been jailed in Cuba two decades ago.
But Menendez questioned whether the return was too small for the United
States and whether there is little else to trade now for Chesimard.
“My view is that we’ve already given them a lot of what they’ve asked
for, which is one of the basic disagreements I have with the
administration,” Menendez said.
This may be difficult news for New Jersey’s law enforcement community to
accept – though, State Police Superintendent, Colonel Rick Fuentes,
issued a statement Tuesday afternoon thanking Menendez for his
“continued advocacy in bringing New Jersey’s most wanted fugitive back
That journey may be a long one.
On Tuesday, the Cuban Mission to the United Nations declined to comment
on Chesimard. But soon after Obama announced he wanted to restore
diplomatic relations, Cuba announced it had the “legitimate right” to
continue to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives.
So far, there is no sign Cuba plans to back down.
Source: Kelly: For Menendez, a ‘ sense of urgency’ in gaining return of
fugitive cop killer Chesimard – News – NorthJersey.com –