U.S. FUGITIVE A CURIOSITY IN CUBA, A HERO TO FIDEL
December 18, 2007
BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald
Joanne Chesimard, an African-American militant on the FBI’s most-wanted list who has lived in Cuba since 1984, has started to create curiosity among island residents, even if the official news media doesn’t mention her.
Chesimard, one of about 70 U.S. fugitives who live protected in Cuba, escaped from prison in 1979 while serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer in New Jersey. The reward for her capture was increased to $1 million in May 2005.
The several hundred people who daily visit the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana can see her FBI wanted poster, distributed more than two years ago, on display there.
Some Cubans have been asking themselves who this woman is, according to residents. Others have searched the Web for information about her, and still others have contacted U.S. publications for details on her case.
On Nov. 13, Havana independent journalist Santiago Du’Bouchet sent a report to the Miami-based New Cuban Press with Chesimard’s phone number and street address in the capital’s Playa municipality.
”This woman strolls unnoticed through the streets of Havana, driving a VW and a black Volvo,” Du’Bouchet reported.
El Nuevo Herald made numerous calls to the number, but it was always busy. Many years ago, Chesimard’s phone number was listed in the Havana directory under the name she uses in Cuba, Assata Shakur. But the listing was later withdrawn.
New Cuban Press director Nancy Pérez Crespo noted what while the Chesimard photographs in her FBI wanted poster are more than 20 years old, her group’s magazine, Enepecé, published a photo that claims to be of Chesimard, taken in February 2005.
The photo was taken when Chesimard was participating in an event for the XIV International Book Fair in Havana, Pérez Crespo said. The photographer, who asked that his name not be disclosed, sent it to New Cuban Press, which published it in mid-2005.
”We published it immediately, but no one [from the FBI] has called me to verify its authenticity or its origin,” Pérez Crespo said.
Chesimard, now 60 years old, is the most notorious of the U.S. fugitives known to be living in Cuba. According to her own testimony, she was welcomed to the island with the personal consent of Fidel Castro, who considered her a fighter for racial equality in the United States.
”To make her look like a terrorist is an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie. This woman was a role model,” Castro said in a television broadcast in 2005.
Chesimard was joined in Cuba in 1985 by her daughter Kakuya, who had been under her grandmother’s care in New York. She wrote a book, Assata: An Autobiography, in 1987 and is known to have worked as an English-language editor for Radio Habana.
In 1997, she told her experience in a documentary, The Eyes of the Rainbow, by Gloria Rolando. The film was officially premiered in Havana in 2004, in an event promoted by Casa de las Américas, the Cuban government’s main cultural forum.
The status of Chesimard and the other U.S. fugitives in Cuba has come under increased speculation since Castro surrendered power to his brother Raúl in mid-2006.
”They have protection only by . . . Fidel Castro’s decision” said a former Interior Ministry official who was involved in cases of foreigners’ protection in Cuba. “It is probable that things will remain the same if their main supporter disappears, but nobody can guarantee them that once the change takes place, there won’t be negotiations.”
The latest U.S. State Department report on countries that sponsor terrorism, dated in April, noted that the Cuban government permits the presence of U.S. fugitives on the island and does not respond to periodic petitions for their extradition.
”However, Cuba has declared that it won’t be a shelter for new American fugitives who seek refuge there,” the report added.
Since October of last year, Cuba has surrendered to Washington three American fugitives who had apparently arrived recently in Havana.
~ASSATA SHAKUR SPEAKS IN HER OWN WORDS:
~ASSATA SHAKUR SPEAKS: “HANDS OFF ASSATA!”
Assata: Exile since 1979
On May 2 1973, Black Panther activist Assata Shakur (fsn) JoAnne Chesimard, was pulled over by the New Jersey State Police, shot twice and then charged with murder of a police officer. Assata spent six and a half years in prison under brutal circumstances before escaping out of the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 and moving to Cuba.
Assata: In her own words
My name is Assata (“she who struggles”) Shakur (“the thankful one”), and 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.
~ASSATA SHAKUR AFRO-CUBA WEBSITE:
~ASSATA SHAKUR: THE INTERVIEW:
~ASSATA SHAKUR: WANTED BY THE FBI:
~ASSATA SHAKUR: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
ASSATA SHAKUR DOCUMENTARY: “THE EYES OF THE RAINBOW”: http://www.afrocubaweb.com/rainbow.htm