People on run finding selves at home abroad with Castro
||Joanne Chesimard||Frank Terpil
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.
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,''
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
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
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.
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
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
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