Fugitive police killer complicates Cuba travel
Bart Jansen, USA TODAY 5:46 p.m. EST February 22, 2016
A New Jersey state police group is urging the Transportation Department
not to resume scheduled airline flights to Cuba until a fugitive
convicted of killing a trooper with a $1 million reward on her head is
returned to U.S. prison from Cuba.
The department is collecting airline proposals and comment
about restoring scheduled flights to the island for the first time since
1963. But the president of the State Troopers Fraternal Organization of
New Jersey, Christopher Burgos, opposed the move in a letter Feb.
17 until dozens of fugitives are returned to justice in the U.S.
“We strongly oppose any request or approval of United Airlines or any
other airline a permit to NJ Port Authority airports to fly back and
forth to a country such as Cuba, that has openly slapped all Americans
in the face with their policy of keeping U.S. fugitives away and safe
from the reach of U.S. justice,” Burgos wrote.
He was referring to Joanne Chesimard, who is also known as Assata
Shakur, was convicted in 1977 of killing Trooper Werner Foerster on May
2, 1973, during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
At the time of the traffic stop, Chesimard, who was a member of the
Black Liberation Army, was wanted for her involvement in several
felonies, including bank robbery, according to the FBI. She and
accomplices opened fire on the troopers, wounding one and killing
Foerster at point-blank range, according to the FBI.
Chesimard was sentenced to life in prison, but she escaped in 1979,
according to the FBI.
She was spotted in Cuba in 1984 and is presumed to be still living
there, according to the FBI, which has a $1 million reward for her as
one of the country’s most wanted terrorists.
The House and Senate each unanimously passed resolutions in 1998 calling
on Cuba to return Chesimard to U.S. prison.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrote President Obama a letter Dec. 18,
2014, urging Obama to insist on Chesimard’s return before restoring
diplomatic relations. Christie called Cuba’s safe harbor to a convicted
killer of a police officer an affront to every resident of New Jersey.
Other fugitives from the U.S. thought to be living in Cuba include:
— Victor Manuel Gerena, who the FBI put on its most-wanted list with a
$1 million reward in connection with the armed robbery of $7 million in
1983 from a Connecticut security firm.
— Cheri Laverne Dalton, also known as Nehanda Abiodum, who is wanted by
the FBI with a $100,000 reward on charges for an armored-car robbery in
1981 that resulted in the loss of $1.6 million and the deaths of two
police officers and a security guard.
— William “Guillermo” Morales, who is wanted by the FBI with a $100,000
reward for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on charges he was a
bomb-maker for a Puerto Rican independence group.
Since December 2014, the U.S. and Cuba have each opened embassies in
each other’s countries. Business links have been growing. Obama plans a
visit March 21 and 22.
The White House said the return of fugitives from Cuba is a
long-standing concern that will be addressed in the broader context of
normalizing relations between the countries. Officials from the two
countries held a law-enforcement dialogue Nov. 9 in Washington and more
meetings are expected during the first half of this year. The U.S.
continues to seek the return of fugitives and repeatedly raised those
concerns with the Cuban government, the White House said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Feb. 16 with
his Cuban counterpart to allow up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to
Cuba. The scheduled flights could begin as early as fall, after the
department reviews proposals from rival airlines for 20 slots in Havana
and 10 slots in each of nine other cities. Applications are due by March 2.
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