Cuba defended its sovereign right to grant protection and asylum to U.S. dissidents, civil rights fighters and persecuted persons, rebuffing the demand of U.S. President Donald Trump that the Caribbean nation return so-called U.S. "criminals" to the country as a precondition for the resumption of neighborly relations between the long-time foes.
“In tune with the national legislation and international law, and Latin America's tradition, Cuba has granted political asylum or refuge to civil rights fighters from the United States,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez stated at a Havana press conference Monday.
Last Friday in Miami, Florida, the U.S. head of state signed the Presidential Memorandum of National Security on Strengthening U.S. Policy Towards Cuba, reversing the modest gestures toward rapprochement adopted by former President Barack Obama in a move denounced by Cuban newspaper Granma as "a return to imperialist rhetoric and unilateral demands."
During Trump's speech before a packed hall at the Manuel Artime Theater, named after the leader of the CIA-backed Brigade 2506 that spearheaded the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the former reality TV personality called on the socialist government to abandon its obligations under international law to respect the human rights of refugees threatened by persecution.
Trump specifically demanded that Cuba repatriate iconic Black freedom fighter Assata Shakur, formerly named Joanne Chesimard, who escaped prison after facing years of incarceration for the trumped up charges of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973, charges she has always denied. On the 40th anniversary of her arrest, in May 2013, Shakur was named to the FBI “Most Wanted Terrorists” list.
The trial and jailing of Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, came amid the FBI's notorious Cointelpro, or counter-intelligence program, which sought to systematically liquidate social movement organizers and militants perceived as “radicals” or “extremists,” the catch-all terms applied by the U.S. government to groups defending the rights of oppressed nationalities and peoples within the United States.
At the time of Shakur's jailing, the Black Panthers — who vocally asserted their right to armed self-defense while also providing counseling, child development, community health care, free breakfast and other “service to the people” programs — were named by the state security agency as the “most dangerous and violence prone of all extremist groups” and “the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the country.”
The Cuban diplomat stressed Cuba's position that refugees such as Shakur are absolutely ineligible for return to U.S. authorities.
“Certainly, those people will not be returned to the United States, which lacks legal, political and moral foundations to demand their return,” he noted.
Under universally acknowledged human rights and refugee laws, asylum seekers and refugees cannot be returned to “the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” per the 1951 Refugee Convention.
However, Rodriguez noted that U.S. citizens found guilty of committing criminal acts within Cuba have faced justice at the hands of the country's legal authorities, often serving lengthy jail sentences. The top diplomat also noted that in 12 cases, U.S. fugitive citizens were repatriated by the Cuban authorities “as a unilateral decision and an act of good will.”
Trump is the latest in a long line of U.S. leaders who have attempted to coerce Havana into bending to Washington's dictates regarding social and economic policy, foreign relations and the application of humanitarian law.
Under successive U.S. administrations, the White House has demanded the return of U.S. refugees while nurturing criminal Cuban fugitives like former CIA agent and terrorist leader Luis Posada Carriles, the perpetrator of multiple bombings and attacks on Cuban targets, including government officials and heads of state.
Following Trump's belligerent speech in Miami, the Cuban people sharply criticized the new policy, which was pushed by aggressive anti-communist and far-right Cuban-American U.S. lawmakers. Civil society groups like Cuba's University Student Federation noted the Cuban people's desire to “continue a respectful dialogue with the U.S. administration, but without submitting to any kind of concession or conditioning that contradicts our independence, sovereignty and anti-imperialist essence.”