How your lawmakers want to punish Cuba for not returning Joanne Chesimard to N.J.

New JerseyBy Jonathan D. Salant

Legislation funding the State Department would block the U.S. from expanding its diplomatic presence in Cuba until convicted cop-killer Joanne Chesimard is returned to New Jersey.

The House Appropriations Committee spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would prevent the U.S. from building new facilities or hiring additional staff except for those needed for health safety and security reasons. It imposes the same restrictions on Cuba in this country.

Chesimard “has been sheltered by the Castro regime for decades,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), the committee chairman. “No matter how much time passes, we will never forget and our appropriations committee will work unceasingly to bring this murderer and other fugitives to justice.”

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

Now known as Assata Olugbala Shaku, Chesimard has lived in Cuba since 1984.

The legislation would freeze the U.S presence in Havana to where it was before Dec. 17, 2014, the day President Barack Obama announced he would to end the 50-year-old embargo against Cuba and restore diplomatic relations.

The measure said those restrictions would be lifted only if President Donald Trump certified that Cuba had “extradited or otherwise rendered to the United States all persons sought by the United States Department of Justice for crimes committed in the United States,” and taken several specified steps toward establishing a democratic government.

A congressional report accompanying the legislation mentioned one fugitive: Chesimard.

The FBI and the Office of the New Jersey State Attorney General have offered a combined $2 million for information leading to her arrest.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Tricia Enright, said he would seek to get a similar provision in the Senate version of the spending bill.

“Senator Menendez has been clear that the United States should not reward a government like the Castros that not only oppresses its own people but also harbors criminals who have murdered American citizens,” Enright said.

“He has been unequivocal in his calls for both the Obama and Trump administrations to make any engagement with the Cuban regime contingent upon the return to justice of New Jersey cop-killer Joanne Chesimard and other American fugitives.”

Reps. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.) and Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.) re-introduced legislation in March requiring the U.S. to submit annual reports on the number of fugitives and the efforts being made to bring them back.

The bill was named for Foerster and another New Jersey resident, Walter Patterson, whose convicted killer also escaped and is living overseas.

Under the bill, federal government would have to submit annual reports on the number of fugitives and the efforts being made to bring them back.

Members of the New Jersey delegation responded to Obama’s diplomatic overtures to Cuba by demandng Chesimard’s return as part of the deal.

“It’s important that Joanne Chesimard be returned to New Jersey to serve her sentence,” said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.). “This was a terrible crime. It involved the death of a police officer.”

Lance and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.) earlier urged the House Appropriations Committee to block funding for restoring relations with Cuba until Chesimard was extradited

“Congressman MacArthur believes that Joanne Chesimard is a cop-killer who needs to be brought to justice,” spokeswoman Camille Gallo said. “We owe this to our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe.  He’s pleased that the House Appropriations Committee has banned the construction of embassies both here and in Havana until this criminal is returned to the United States.”

Trump singled out Chesimard in a June speech rolling back Obama’s Cuba policy after being urged to do so by both Gov. Chris Christie and Menendez.

“To the Cuban government, I say: Put an end to the abuse of dissidents,” Trump said in Miami. “Release the political prisoners. Stop jailing innocent people. Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms. Return the fugitives from American justice — including the return of the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard.”

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