For decades, some of the most wanted fugitives in American history have found sanctuary on an island just to the south, where the Castro regime has refused to hand over a motley crew of hijackers, cop killers, and bomb makers. But that safe haven may be about to disappear.
Congress announced this week that Cuba has agreed to work on resolving the cases of multiple fugitives as a part of the ongoing dialogue between President Barack Obama and the Castros. Among those fugitives: Tupac Shakur's godmother, who is accused of killing a state trooper in the '70s.
The news that the fugitives' return could be on the table comes as Obama moves to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Obama says that even though Cuba has been harboring U.S. fugitives for decades, the Castros' recent actions indicate they may have changed their stance. In 2011 and 2013, Cuban authorities extradited criminals to the United States so they could face the American justice system.
"Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement dialogue with the United States that will include discussions with the aim of resolving outstanding fugitive cases," Obama told reporters. "We believe that the strong U.S. interest in the return of these fugitives will be best served by entering into this dialogue with Cuba."
One of the most talked-about fugitives is Joanne Chesimard, AKA Assata Olugbala Shakur. She's the godmother of rapper Tupac Shakur and was an active member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the '70s. Shakur was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. In 1977, she was imprisoned for the murder but escaped in 1979 and eventually fled to Cuba in 1984. Since 2005, Shakur has been classified by the FBI as a domestic terrorist, and a $1 million reward for assistance in her capture is still offered to this day.
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Though Shakur may be the most publicized fugitive that was granted asylum in Cuba, there are others hiding on the island guilty of even more violent crimes. Here are some of the most violent criminals Cuba might return to the U.S.:
- Guillermo Morales, a bomb maker, was sentenced to 99 years in prison after being linked to two explosions in New York City — one in 1975 that killed four and injured 60, and a second in 1977 that killed one.
- Victor Manuel Gerena allegedly robbed a security company of $7 million, took two security employees hostage at gunpoint, and then handcuffed, bound, and injected them with an unknown substance to further disable them.
- Charlie Hill is suspected of killing a state trooper and hijacking a plane to escape to Cuba in 1971. Hill has admitted that Cuba is his home and even did an interview with the New York Times in 2007. He recently pleaded with the United States government to let him return to the country.
- Ishmael LaBeet escaped to Cuba while being flown to the U.S. in 1984. LaBeet got control of one of the armed guards escorting him and forced the commercial plane — full of passengers — to Cuba. Cuba welcomed him and allowed the plane to return to the States.
Before Obama can officially remove Cuba from the terror state list, lawmakers will have a required 45-day window to pass the change.