HAVANA — Cuba said Monday that it has a right to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives, the clearest sign yet that the communist government has no intention of extraditing America’s most-wanted woman despite the warming of bilateral ties.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has urged President Obama to demand the return of fugitive Joanne Chesimard before restoring full relations under a historic detente announced by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro last week.

Chesimard was granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped from the prison where she was serving a sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a gunbattle after being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Asked if returning fugitives was open to negotiation, Cuba’s head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press that “every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted. … That’s a legitimate right.”

“We’ve explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum,” Vidal said.

“There’s no extradition treaty in effect between Cuba and the U.S.,” she added.

In a letter to the White House made public Sunday, Christie said Cuba’s asylum for Chesimard, who has changed her name to Assata 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 first woman ever placed on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list was living so openly in Havana that her number was listed in the phone book.

The FBI and the New Jersey State Police have offered a $2 million reward for information leading to Shakur’s capture.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, said the Obama 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.”

Several infamous convicts and suspects in high-profile American cases live openly in Cuba, as do others convicted of less serious crimes. Among these are a woman convicted of killing a police officer four decades ago, a man sought for a 31-year-old armed robbery, airplane hijackers and dozens of people accused of Medicare and insurance fraud.

Cuba occasionally returns people convicted or suspected of committing crimes in the U.S., but it doesn’t observe traditional extradition and refuses to send anyone back for a crime Havana considers political in nature, according to the State Department.

The Castro government’s frequent position on returning fugitives has been to ask for the U.S. to return people wanted in Cuba.

“We’ve reminded the U.S. government that in its country they’ve given shelter to dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens,” Vidal said. “Some of them accused of horrible crimes, some accused of terrorism, murder and kidnapping, and in every case the U.S. government has decided to welcome them.”

In Cuba’s first detailed public response to Obama’s historic announcement last week, Vidal said Cuba is open to all of Obama’s moves to improve relations and strengthen private enterprise and civil society on the island. That includes U.S. equipment to improve the Cuban Internet and U.S. exports to Cuba’s new class of private business owners.

“Our president has said we welcome President Obama’s decision to introduce the most significant changes in relations with Cuba in 54 years,” Vidal said. “That includes the entire package.”

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.