Immoral Bounty for
By Atty. Michael Ratner, Covert Action Quarterly
27 October 1998
Michael Ratner is an attorney who works with
the Center for Constitutional Rights, and co-author, with Michael
Steven Smith, of Che Guevara and the FBI (Ocean Press: Melbourne,
1. Even prior to the notoriety of the request for Assata's extradition,
Congress had included a request for the "expulsion of criminals
from Cuba" in the Helms-Burton statute. Section 113 reads:
"The president shall instruct all United States Government
officials who engage in official contacts with the Cuban government
to raise on a regular basis the extradition of or rendering to the
United States of all persons residing in Cuba, who are sought by
the United States Department of Justice for crimes."
2. For some discussion of racial targeting, particularly
by the New Jersey State troopers, see, for example, "Driving
While Black," Peter Noel, Village Voice, June 9, 1998, p.39;
"Racial 'Profiling' at Crux of Inquiry into Shooting by Troopers,"
John Kifner and David M. Herszenhorn, New York Times, May 8, 1998,
4. Article Vl of the treaty states: "A fugitive
criminal shall not be surrendered if the offense in respect of which
his surrender is demanded be of a political character, or if it
is proved that the requisition for his surrender has, in fact, been
made with a view to try or punish him for an offense of a political
character." Interestingly, after the revolution it was the
United States that first invoked this "political offense"
exception to shield two escaped murderers who had been convicted
of killing a prominent member of the Cuban Communist Party. Ramos
v. Diaz, 179 E Supp. 458 (1959).
5. Article Vl states: "If any question shall
arise as to whether a case comes within the provisions of this article,
the decision of the authorities of the government on which the demand
for the surrender is made, or which may have granted the extradition
shall be final."
Recent, widely publicized attempts by the United
States government to extradite Assata Shakur from Cuba began with
NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman's March 1998 letters to Attorney
General Janet Reno and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright requesting
that they pressure Cuba to return Assata. Whitman asked that any
lifting of the embargo with Cuba be conditioned on Assata's return
and that of 90 other claimed fugitives from the United States. Whitman
also offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who could bring her back.
Whitman herself announced the reward on Radio Marti -a station set
up by Congress to transmit to Cuba -and asked the Cuban people to
help in the capture. Presumably the reward would be paid for Assata's
capture and return, dead or alive. Such a morally offensive offer
is tantamount to a solicitation to kidnap or commit murder; it also
violates the sovereignty of Cuba as well as international law. Imagine
if Fidel Castro broadcast a radio message into the United States
offering a similar reward for one of the many real terrorists the
United States is shielding. It is likely Cuba would be bombed or
On April 2, Cuba forcefully turned down any request
for Assata's extradition. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry,
Alejandro Gonzalez, said Assata was "a civil rights activist."
He stated that she would not be extradited, as the government of
Cuba has sufficient reasons to disagree with the charges against
her and fears that she might be the target of unfair treatment."
In other words, the Cuban government understands that Assata was
railroaded: She was illegally stopped by racist New Jersey State
police shot in the back with her hands in the air, tried by a jury
inflamed by politicians and a press bent on her conviction.
The U.S. understands that Cuba has neither the
intention nor the obligation to extradite Assata, yet in July 1998
the State Department insisted on her extradition, treating the request
in a mocking, almost racist manner. When asked at a press conference
about the extradition of Assata and others, spokesperson James Rubin
replied: "There are several people involved here, and I'm fearing
that I will mess up their names; but since they are prisoner-escapees,
I'm not going to worry about it that much.[Laughs.] [Laughter.]
3. "Is it any wonder the Cuban government
worries that Assata was or may not be treated fairly!
Rubin then details Assata's alleged crime, and
says there is a 1905 extradition treaty (amended in 1926) with Cuba,
but it hasn't "been invoked, presumably because the Castro
government won't abide by the treaties."
An astute reporter then pointed out that "Cuba's
response generally is that extradition is a two-way street and that
there are a number of people accused of murder here in the U.S.
that Cuba would like back." Rubin can make no meaningful response
to the point; he can only mock Cuba by saying, "when there
are murderers in Cuba, they send them to the United States... [and]
if we have a convicted murderer, they would simply be returning
these people to the United States."
There are, however, both legal and political answers
to the U.S. extradition request. Even assuming the treaty is still
valid, it contains an absolute exception to extradition for crimes
that are of a "political character." 4. Assata's claimed
offense clearly fits within this exception and the Cuban government
has said so. Moreover, the treaty states that this decision is solely
that of the Cuban government and its determination is final. 5.
There would also seem to be serious questions regarding the United
States' continued reliance on this treaty after it has repudiated
other treaties with Cuba, organized and supported the Playa Giron
invasion, embargoed the country in an effort to strangle it economically,
cut off diplomatic relations and labeled it a terrorist state.
But, for the United States political grandstanding,
inconsistency, and decisions made for its own benefit are not unusual.
Even apart from her innocence, it is politically
hypocritical for the United States to insist on Assata's extradition
or that of any other of the 90 so-called fugitives. If there is
a place terrorists can call home, it is the United States. Its history
is hardly honorable. It was a welcome home to many prominent Nazis,particularly
scientists that the U.S. used in its own production of weapons of
war. Today it gives refuge to criminals who have attacked and murdered
scores if not hundreds of Cubans. Most notorious of these is Orlando
Bosch, living in Miami, who was convicted of blowing up a Cubana
airliner killing 76 people, including the young Cuban fencing team.
And what of the agents of the CIA who planned and paid for numerous
sabotage and terrorist attacks in Cuba?
But the U.S. is not only a home for Cuban terrorists.
Living among us is Emanuel Constant, the former head of the Haitian
paramilitary organization FRAPH; its members tortured and murdered
hundreds in the aftermath of the 1991 coup in Haiti. During the
coup, Constant was on the CIA payroll. After the coup, the U.S.labeled
FRAPH terrorist, yet refused a Haitian extradition request, and
the State Department stopped his deportation back to Haiti. And
what of the Salvadoran General Jose Guillermo Garcia and the head
of E1 Salvador's national guard, General Vides Casanova, who according
to the United Nations covered up and protected the murderers of
the three nuns and lay worker in El Salvador.
They obtained political asylum and are living well
in Palm Coast, Florida. The U.S. has laid out a welcome mat for
other terrorists, including General Hector Gramajo, accused of killing
as many as 10,000 Guatemalan Indians; General Prosper Avril, a former
dictator of Haiti, responsible for the torture of opposition leaders;
and Sintong Panjaitan, an Indonesian general, responsible for the
1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor that killed hundreds. But
these are only a few terrorists who the U.S. has welcomed; scores
more are probably unknown to the public, hidden in the U.S. after
carrying out its bidding overseas.
Yet despite the hypocrisy of the United States
and Cuba's unwavering support for Assata and her innocence, this
effort to pressure Cuba must be taken seriously by all who care
about the cause of justice. Ideologues and opportunists in the U.S.
Congress may try to condition more open and fair relations with
Cuba on its agreement to extradite Assata and others who have been
granted asylum. While Cuba would not acquiesce to such conditions,
it could put Assata in an uncomfotable situation. So the fight for
Assata and for Cuba must continue! "