It appears that Cuban officials have spoken the final word on the fate of Assata Shakur: Without question, she’s staying in Cuba.
“I can say it is off the table,” Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Yahoo News in Havana when asked about calls for Cuba to return Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard.
While that news will be greeted with glee within many Black activist communities in the U.S., where Shakur is seen as a hero for her courageous fight against the most powerful nation on the planet, it won’t be warmly received by American lawmakers and law enforcement officials, particularly in New Jersey, who have been energetically trying to get their hands on Shakur ever since President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December they were normalizing relations.
This is a time when white supremacy and power stands so extreme that a leader of a foreign land, Benjamin Netanyahu, would feel so empowered to march into the Capitol chamber in Washington, DC, and insult the American president. So the fact that the small island of Cuba and this 67-year-old grandmother continue to withstand the enormous pressure being exerted from the U.S. strikes many as admirable.
Not only have U.S. officials issued tough-talking statements and increased the bounty on her head to $2 million, they even declared she was one of the country’s most wanted terrorists—permanently distorting the word “terrorist” in the eyes of many observers by placing that label on Shakur, who was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper during a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. But after her conviction, Shakur escaped from a New Jersey state women’s prison two years later and fled to Cuba, where she has lived under the protection of the Cuban government for 30 years.
As recently as last week New Jersey officials were still at it.
Cuba’s decision to provide sanctuary for Chesimard “is an intolerable insult to all those who long to see justice served,” including members of the slain New Jersey state trooper’s family, Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week.
Menendez said to Yahoo in an emailed statement that Chesimard is a “cop killer” and her return should be “a top agenda” item before any further concessions are made to the Castro government.
But Cuba hasn’t budged on Shakur.
In an interview in Havana at the Foreign Ministry, Machin told Yahoo that Cuba had granted her political asylum and so she would not be subject to any extradition to the United States. He added that the U.S. is harboring its own terrorists involved in attacks in Cuba, such as Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative charged in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. After escaping from jail, Carriles was accused by the Cubans of orchestrating a spate of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997.
In December, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is reportedly considering a run for president, sent a letter to President Obama stating that Cuba’s granting of asylum for Shakur was “an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, who have tirelessly tried to bring this killer back to justice.”
The Queens-born Shakur, the step-aunt of rapper Tupac Shakur (her brother was Tupac’s stepfather), has been the subject of films, documentaries and rap songs over the years, in addition to her own writings, which were influential to a generation of activists.