President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba and to end the 54 year embargo mark a serious turning point in relations with the Communist government. While many revel in what is seemingly Obama’s move to solidify his foreign policy legacy I believe there are unforeseen issues that threaten to do harm to African Americans that fought police brutality and institutional and personal racism here in America during the Black Power struggle.
I worry about American dissidents that have been protected by the Cuban government and were allowed to live on the island in peace and freedom. The list of Americans that sought refuge from American racism and State sanctioned brutality are long: Robert F. Williams, Eldgridge Cleaver, Katherine Neal, and Assata Shakur are among the most well known Americans that sought asylum during the 1960s and 1970s. Cleaver died in California in 1998, Williams in 1996 and Kathleen Neal spent a career as a law professor in the United States. Assata Shakur, perhaps the most famous or most wanted American exile currently resides in Cuba.
While Americans revel in the possibility of future nostalgic walks back in time there is a real possibility that the FBI will attempt to apprehend Americas most wanted domestic terrorist: Assata Shakur or Joanne Deborah Chesimard. If you are not familiar with Shakur’s story I have provided a link to a Shakur website. In short, in 1973 Shakur along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey turnpike by New Jersey State Trooper’s James Harper and Wermer Foerster. As the events transpired Zayd M. Shakur and Trooper Foerster were killed. Assata Shakur suffered gun shot wounds. In 1977, Shakur was convicted of murder by an all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years. By 1979, Shakur was living in exile in Cuba. How she was ended up in Cuba still remains a mystery but needless to say there were enough people that believed in her innocence to take an active role in her “liberation.” The FBI issued a $1,000,000 (one million) bounty for Shakur’s return. New Jersey’s bounty was recently raised to $2,000,000 (two million); the Cuban government resisted. In 2015 the FBI still lists Assatta Shakur on its 10 Most Wanted Terrorist List along with the likes of terrorists Abdul Rahman Yasin, an alleged co-conspirator of the World Trade Center Bombings and Jamel Ahmed Mohammad Ali Al-Badawi, in connection with the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
Cuba is a cautionary tale of governments that are able and willing to defy American hegemony. Cuba suffers from food shortages, lack of basic material goods, a crumbling infrastructure, few meaningful jobs and a desperately under funded education system. Yet, through it all many Cubans I met on my travels through Cuba maintain a sense of national pride that would rival Americans on the 4th of July at an afternoon baseball game. I believe this is a direct result of having withstood U.S. pressure and a willingness to defy the United States especially when it came to doing the right thing, like providing refuge for black Americans that were and are facing State persecution and the most organized illegal counter-intelligence program waged against its own citizens (COINTELPRO). Defying the United States appears to be a comedic past time for Cubans. While the opening of trade and diplomatic relations would help to bring Cuba back into the fold of American hemispheric nations I fear that this move is perhaps the greatest threat to its sovereignty and dignity if the U.S were to unilaterally and covertly take Shakur from the Island.
Having been to Cuba a few years ago I found the Island fascinating, but not for its antique automobiles and buildings that seem to be lost in time but for the intractable will of its people. Whatever one thinks of President Castro or the Communist experiment any conscientious visitor cannot over-look the Cuban people’s ability to maintain their sense of identity, dignity and sovereignty in spite of America’s desire to break the nation’s will to exist. I argue that any diplomatic insistence on the return of Shakur will not only threaten Cuban sovereignty but indicate the resumption of the war against Black American freedom fighters.
What is troubling is that Presidents Obama’s overtures while seemingly done in sincerity present the first real opportunity for the FBI and other State police agencies groups to bring Shakur to face the American Legal System that has proven to be both unjust and racially unfair. I insist that the Black Caucus take and active role to protect Shakur and to insist on maintaining Cuban integrity and sovereignty even as the Island begins to lose a bit of its freedom due to American hegemony.
And if we use Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Akai Gurley, Kajieme Powell, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Tyree Woodson, Eric Garner, Victor White III, Yvette Smith, McKenzie Cochran, Jordan Baker, Andy Lopez, Miriam Carey, Jonathan Ferrell, Carlos Alcis, Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr, Deion Fludd, Kimani Gray, Johnnie Kamahi Warren, Malissa Williams, Timothy Russell, Reynaldo Cuevas, Chavis Carter, Shantel Davis, Sharmel Edwards, Tamon Robinson, Ervin Jefferson, Kendrec McDade, Rekia Boyd, Shereese Francis, Wendell Allen, Nehemiah Dillard, Dante Price, Raymond Allen, Sgt. Manuel Loggins, Ramarley Graham, Kenneth Chamberlain, Alonzo Ashley, Kenneth Harding, Raheim Brown, Reginald Doucet, Derrick Jones, Danroy Henry, Aiyana Jones, Steven Eugene Washington, Aaron Campbell, Kiwane Carrington, Victor Steen, Shem Walker, Oscar Grant, Tarika Wilson, DeAunta Terrel Farrow, Sean Bell, Henry Glover, Ronald Madison, James Brisette, Timothy Stansbury, Alberta Spruill, Ousmane Zongo, Orlando Barlow, Timothy Thomas, Prince Jones, Ronald Beasley, Earl Murray, Patrick Dorismond, Malcolm Ferguson, Amadou Diallo…..All murdered by the State between 1999-2014 that is charged to Protect and Serve as an example of American justice Shakur certainly deserves better from black American politicians.