Dear Member of Congress, On September 14, 1998, the House of Representatives passed H. Con. Res. 254, calling on the government of Cuba to extradite Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard). That resolution was not only incredibly hypocritical, but illegal and unwarranted as well. There is no basis for that resolution.
First, even apart from Assata Shakur’s innocence and the unfairness of her trial, it is politically hypocritical for the United States to insist on• her extradition. If there is a place where terrorists can call home, it is the United States. It gives refuge to criminals who have attacked and murdered scores, if not hundreds, of Cubans. Most notorious of these is Orlando Bosch, living in Miami, who was convicted of blowing up a Cubana airliner killing 76 people, including a young Cuban fencing team. And what of the agents of the CIA who planned and paid for numerous sabotage and terrorist attacks in Cuba?
But the U.S. is not only a home for Cuban terrorists. Living among us is Emmanuel Constant, the former head of the Haitian paramilitary organization FRAPH; its members tortured and murdered hundreds in the aftermath of the 1991 coup in Haiti. During the coup, Constant was on the CIA payroll. After the coup, the U.S. labeled FRAPH “terrorist,” and Secretary of State Warren Christopher said his presence here would seriously undermine U.S. foreign policy interests and cast doubt upon the seriousness of our resolve to combat human rights violations. He said Constant “was instrumental in sustaining the repression that prevailed in Haiti….” Yet the State Department refused a Haitian extradition request and stopped his deportation back to Haiti. Constant walks the streets of New York intimidating and frightening Haitians.
And what of the Salvadoran General Jose Guillermo Garcia and the head of El Salvador’s national guard, Vides Cassanonva, who according to the United Nations covered up and protected the murderers of the three nuns and lay worker in El Salvador? These two men obtained political asylum and are living well in Palm Coast, Florida. The U.S. has laid out a welcome mat for other terrorists, including General Hector Gramajo, accused of killing as many as 10,000 Guatemalan Indians, General Prosper Avril, a former dictator of Haiti and responsible for the torture of opposition leaders, and Sintong Panjaitan, an Indonesian general, responsible for the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor that killed hundreds. But, these are only a few terrorists whom the U.S. has welcomed; scores more are probably unknown to the public, hidden in the U.S. after carrying out its bidding overseas.
Second, under the extradition treaty with Cuba, Cuba has the absolute and unfettered right not to extradite Assata Shakur. Assuming the treaty is still valid, it contains a clear exception to extradition for crimes that are of a “political character.” Article VI of the treaty states: A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offense in respect of which his surrender is demanded be of a political character, or if it proved that the requisition for his surrender has, in fact, been made with a view to try or punish him for an offense of a political character. Interestingly, after the revolution, it was the United States that first invoked this “political offense” exception to shield two escaped murderers who had been convicted of killing a prominent member of the Cuban Communist Party: Ramos v. Diaz, 179 F. Supp. 458 (1959).
Cuba has made the decision that Assata Shakur’s case fits the “political exception” of the treaty. On April 2, Cuba forcefully turned down any request for Assata’s extradition. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Alejandro Gonzalez, said Assata was “a civil rights activist.” He stated that she would not be extradited as the “government of Cuba has sufficient reasons to disagree with the charges against her and fears that she might be the target of unfair treatment.” This decision by the Cuban government cannot be questioned or overruled by the United States. Article VI of the treaty is clear on this: If any question shall arise as to whether a case comes within the provisions of this article, the decision of the authorities of the government on which the demand for the surrender is made, or which may have granted the extradition shall be final. The current demand by the House of Representatives flies in the face of the treaty and violates U.S. treaty obligations and U.S. law.
Third, I believe, as do many others, that Assata Shakur is innocent. The evidence at trial showed that she was illegally stopped by racist New Jersey State police, shot in the back with her hands in the air and tried by a jury inflamed by politicians and a press bent on her conviction. The New Jersey State Police have a long history of discriminatory and racist conduct that unfortunately is still continuing. No matter what position you take on Assata Shakur’s innocence or guilt, her trial was clearly, like that of Sam Shepard’s, a miscarriage of justice.
The vote on the resolution represents political grandstanding of the worst sort. But for the United States and the House of Representatives, hypocrisy, inconsistency, and illegality are a matter of course when dealing with Assata Shakur and Cuba.
Yours, Michael Ratner