The Miami Herald
March 10, 2001

People on run finding selves at home abroad with Castro

Arletis Blanco
Carlos Cardoen
Joanne Chesimard Frank Terpil
Robert Vesco

                                      PAUL BRINKLEY-ROGERS

                                      U.S. authorities seeking to arrest a Key Largo woman on
                                      kidnapping charges for taking her son to Cuba would be making
                                      history if they persuade Havana to send her back for prosecution.

                                      Cuba has never returned any of the 77 federal fugitives the FBI
                                      says are enjoying Fidel Castro's protection despite demands from
                                      Congress that go back 30 years. Giving political asylum to Arletis
                                      Blanco, the Key Largo woman, or to black radicals such as
                                      convicted murderer Joanne Chesimard -- better known to her
                                      supporters in the United States as Assata Shakur -- gives Cuba
                                      yet another opportunity to thumb its nose at Washington, U.S.
                                      officials say.

                                      Blanco fled to Cuba in November with her 5-year-old, U.S.-born son
                                      and was indicted last month. In an interview in the Communist
                                      Party daily Granma, Blanco claimed she sought asylum
                                      because she uncovered an anti-Castro plot by her former

                                      She is wanted on a grand theft charge in Monroe County for
                                      allegedly stealing close to $150,000 from McKenzie
                                      Petroleum, where she worked as an office manager. Company
                                      officials have denied her allegations.

                                      Like Blanco, 52 of the 77 fugitives are Cuban-born. Sixty-eight are
                                      air hijackers. According to Dennis Hays, the former State
                                      Department Cuba Desk officer who heads the Cuban American
                                      National Foundation's Washington office, there may be
                                      ``many more fugitives from state charges.''

                                      Once in Havana, many fugitives become fiercely outspoken
                                      advocates for Castro even as they eke out a living as tour guides,
                                      translators and entrepreneurs doing favors for the Cuban state.

                                      "You could call this little community an ego booster for
                                      Castro,'' said a Washington official familiar with Cuban affairs.
                                      ``They are beyond the reach of American justice and Fidel loves
                                      that. But in reality, they are a sad, homesick bunch.''

                                      When the Cuban president spoke at a Harlem church last year
                                      during a visit to the United Nations, he was lauded for
                                      rejecting a request by Congress in 1998 to return Chesimard -- the
                                      aunt of slain rapper Tupac Shakur -- to the United States.

                                      Patricia Wilson, a New York City-based member of one of
                                      several support groups, claims Chesimard is a victim of FBI
                                      ``terrorism'' directed at the Black Panthers. Wilson said
                                      Chesimard did not fatally shoot a New Jersey state trooper
                                      after she helped hold up a bank in 1973. Chesimard staged
                                      a dramatic escape in 1979 from a maximum-security facility
                                      with the help of four friends who commandeered a prison

                                      But New Jersey officials such as U.S. Rep. Robert
                                      Menendez, a Democrat, say she is an unrepentant
                                      murderer. ``She committed some very heinous crimes,''
                                      Menendez said.

                                      When former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman offered a $100,000
                                      reward in 1998 to ``anyone who assists in the safe return'' of
                                      Chesimard, Cuba Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro
                                      González described her as a ``well-known civil rights

                                      CHANGE UNLIKELY

                                      The cases of these renegades, who include former CIA
                                      agent Frank Terpil, an arms dealer convicted of weapons
                                      charges, and financier and indicted swindler Robert Vesco,
                                      have long been a major irritant to the United States.

                                      Antonio Jorge, professor of economics and international
                                      relations at Florida International University, said the issue
                                      probably will not be resolved as long as Castro rules.

                                      The Cuban leader, Jorge said, ``continually inveighs against
                                      the American system -- the oppression of minorities, the
                                      exploitation of capitalism, imperialism. With these people he
                                      can prove that there are political dissenters in America.

                                      ``If he were to send them back it would mean he that he was
                                      surrendering to American imperialism,'' he said. There is no
                                      extradition treaty with Cuba.

                                      Many of these Americans on the run are given a basic
                                      package: an apartment in Havana, ration cards, medical
                                      care, a wedding blessing, and sometimes e-mail privileges
                                      and the ability to make pro-Castro political statements at
                                      arts festivals.

                                      Some have been in Cuba for decades. Puerto Rico hijacking
                                      suspect Luis Peña Soltren has been a fugitive longer than
                                      anyone else, according to the FBI. A warrant was issued for
                                      him on Dec. 5, 1968. It is not known what he does in Cuba.

                                      STILL ON THE RUN

                                      Some of the half-dozen former Panthers who hijacked planes
                                      -- often to escape prosecution -- are now senior citizens.
                                      Most of them speak Spanish, are raising families, and say
                                      they are still committed to revolution.

                                      Former Panther William Lee Brent, now almost 70, shot two
                                      police officers and hijacked a plane in June 1969. He spent
                                      22 months in a Cuban jail but was released to teach at a
                                      Cuban high school. He is married to American travel book
                                      writer Jane McManus, who is not a fugitive.

                                      Nehanda Abiodun, 51, calls herself a ``political exile.'' But
                                      according to the FBI, the former Cheri Dalton has been a
                                      fugitive since 1981 from charges she held up armored cars in
                                      the New York City area. She said in an interview last year
                                      she still regards herself as a Black Liberation Army soldier.

                                      DEEPLY HOMESICK

                                      Charlie Hill, a member of the separatist Republic of New
                                      Afrika, shot a police officer and hijacked a plane from
                                      Albuquerque 28 years ago. In Cuba, he is a translator. In a
                                      1999 interview, Hill said he tunes his radio to sports events
                                      from the United States and acknowledged in a 1999
                                      interview that he is deeply homesick.

                                      Puerto Rico nationalist Guillermo Morales, 51, lost both
                                      hands when a bomb he was making in Queens, N.Y., blew
                                      up in 1978. He was convicted of weapons charges and
                                      sentenced to 89 years in jail but escaped from a prison
                                      hospital and fled to Mexico. Mexico concluded he was a
                                      victim of U.S. political persecution and put him on a plane to
                                      Havana in 1988.

                                      Morales has told interviewers he remains steadfastly
                                      ``anti-imperialist.'' Cuba, he said, treats him with ``dignity.''
                                      Castro has asked the U.N. Decolonization Committee to
                                      declare Puerto Rico a colony.

                                      Not all of the fugitives are treated warmly.

                                      An air piracy agreement signed by Havana with the United
                                      States in the 1960s obliges Cuba to apprehend hijackers.

                                      Tyrone Wong of San Francisco killed himself at a prison
                                      farm with a machete. Tony Bryant, a Panther who forced a
                                      Miami-bound plane to fly to Havana, was jailed and then
                                      expelled after complaining about prison conditions. After
                                      U.S. officials decided not to prosecute, he joined the
                                      Miami-based anti-Castro Commandos L.

                                      Vesco fled to Havana in 1982 after allegedly stealing $250
                                      million from American investors and then helped the Cubans
                                      with high finance. But in 1996 he was sentenced to 13 years
                                      in Villa Marista prison -- the headquarters of Cuba's secret
                                      police -- for trying to market a miracle drug behind Castro's

                                      Terpil, who allegedly supplied arms to Libya's Moammar
                                      Gadhafi, was placed under house arrest in 1995 after Cuba
                                      investigated his business. ``Cuba could never completely
                                      trust a man like that,'' said FIU's Jorge. ``He could
                                      embarrass Castro.''

                                      The FBI says it cannot discuss which suspects are thought
                                      to have most recently fled to Cuba. The bureau's fugitive list
                                      once included Panther founders Huey Newton and Eldridge

                                      But other sources say newcomers may include more
                                      players on the international finance and arms smuggling
                                      scene who may be of use to Cuba as it struggles with
                                      economic distress.

                                      They could include, for example, the dapper, Chile-born
                                      Carlos Remigio Cardoen, who is wanted on a warrant out of
                                      U.S. District Court in South Florida for exporting munitions
                                      without a license.

                                      ``Cuba is a rogue state,'' said a Washington official. ``It is an
                                      ideal place to hide, or use as a base for illegal activities -- as
                                      long as you please friends in high places.''

                                      Rep. Menendez said sheltering fugitives enables Castro to
                                      claim he is protecting citizens of the country most critical of
                                      Cuba's human rights record.

                                      Menendez and other members of Congress have made the
                                      fugitives' return a condition for ending the embargo. Castro is
                                      capable of bargaining the future of the fugitives, he asserts.

                                      ``With Vesco, it was a lot of money -- not politics. Castro is,
                                      at any given time, not beyond using these people to his