Lawmakers: Oppose Funding for Normalization Until Cuba Returns Fugitives

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

N.J. lawmakers urge no funding for Cuban relations until Chesimard is returned to U.S.

Congress should not approve any money for restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba until convicted cop-killer Joanne Chesimard is returned to the U.S., three New Jersey Republican federal lawmakers said today.

U.S. Reps. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.), Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.) and Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.) made the request in a letter today to fellow Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that approves spending on foreign operations, and the panel's ranking member, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

"Any attempt by the Obama administration to normalize relations with Cuba must include the extradition of Joanne Chesimard back to New Jersey so that she can face justice and serve out her sentence," the lawmakers wrote. "Until Cuba accepts this condition, we request all funds directed toward normalization be withheld.

Today's letter is the latest attempt by the New Jersey congressional delegation to make Chesimard's return a condition of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).told Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter last month that Chesimard and other fugitives must be extradited before Cuba is removed from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In January, members of the state's congressional delegation called on President Obama to make Chesimard's extradition "an immediate priority,"

Chesimard escaped prison and fled to Cuba after being sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1973 murder of Trooper Werner Foerster during a gunfight. Chesimard and other members of the Black Liberation Army had been stopped by State Police on the New Jersey Turnpike. In 2013, she became the first woman on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists.

The calls for Chesimard's extradition have grown louder since Obama in December announced a "new approach" to Cuba, which has been under a U.S. embargo for a half-century, and said he would easing economic restrictions and move toward re-establishing diplomatic relations with the communist regime.

Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, told NJ Advance Media in January that the administration "will continue to press in our engagement with the Cuban government for the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba to pursue justice for the victims of their crimes."

A Cuban official, Gustavo Machin, a deputy director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Yahoo News in February that Chesimard's extradition was "off the table."