U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) has a homework assignment for President Barack Obama when the latter travels to Cuba next month.
Pascrell wants Obama to advocate for the return to the United States of more than 70 fugitives from justice harbored by the Cuban government, including convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard.
Pascrell fired off a letter to Obama today following the president’s tweet announcing his Cuba trip scheduled for March 21-22.
“I understand that you will be traveling to Cuba in March as part of your Administration’s efforts to normalize relations between our two countries,” Pascrell noted in the letter. “The historic nature of your trip cannot be understated as it will mark the first time a sitting U.S. President has visited Cuba in nearly 90 years. That is why I am requesting that you take full advantage of this historic visit to advocate for the return of the more than 70 U.S. fugitives Cuba is currently harboring, most notably Joanne Chesimard.”
Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, is a member of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List and was convicted of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. In 1973, New Jersey State Troopers Werner Foerster and James Harper made a routine traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. When the state troopers approached the stopped vehicle to question the driver, Chesimard pulled out a gun and began shooting. Trooper Foerster was hit twice in the chest before being shot twice in the head, execution style. Additionally, Trooper Harper was hit once in the shoulder. Joanne Chesimard was convicted of the murder of Trooper Foerster and sentenced to life in prison. However, she escaped custody with four accomplices by holding two prison officers hostage and fled to Cuba where former Cuban President Fidel Castro granted her political asylum.
“I understand the importance of what you are attempting to accomplish in changing our nation’s relationship with Cuba, and I sincerely believe that the return of fugitives from justice must be a basic element of normalization process, not merely an afterthought,” Pascrell said. “It is a gross injustice that Joanne Chesimard lives freely in Cuba avoiding punishment for her heinous crimes. Her victims and their families of her victims deserve the chance to obtain some closure. The Congress and the State of New Jersey have made the extradition of Joanne Chesimard a priority. Ensuring the fugitive issue is properly addressed can bolster support for your efforts amongst a skeptical segment of the American public. As part of improving relations between our countries, it is paramount the Cuban government returns Joanne Chesimard to U.S. custody.”