U.S. President Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has set an aggressive tone for his stance on radical activists: in a recent interview, he made clear he wants to re-imprison on U.S. soil former Black Liberation Army revolutionary Assata Shakur, who has been living in exile in Cuba for three decades.
In an interview spanning a range of foreign policy issues with website Latin America Goes Global, Tillerson described Shakur as a "fugitive," saying, “I will engage bilaterally and multilaterally (with Raul Castro’s government) to bring these fugitives to justice.”
Tillerson also hinted that he would roll back the historic thaw in frozen U.S.-Cuba relations launched under Obama, a position that Trump has often repeated, arguing that the U.S. should demand a better "deal" from Cuba.
Tillerson also echoed long-held sentiments of many Republican lawmakers who reject a move toward ending the half-century-long blockade on the island, saying, "I will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider placing conditions on trade or travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners.”
Shakur, a Queens-born activist and referred to in the interview with Tillerson by her former name Joanne Chesimard, was the first woman to be put on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list. She was added to the list on the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike shootout that led to her imprisonment.
She escaped prison two years after being convicted of the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1977 during a gunfight — a crime she has always denied. Shakur argued she was unfairly targeted by Cointelpro, the FBI’s covert surveillance program that conducted counterintelligence on political organizations such as the Black Panthers.
In the mid-1980s, then-Cuban President Fidel Castro granted Shakur asylum on the island.
Shortly after Washington announced its normalization of relations with Cuba, state authorities in New Jersey expressed hope that Havana would extradite the former Black Panther to U.S. soil.
"We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973,” said Col. Rick Fuentes, head of the state’s largest law enforcement agency, at the time.
However, the Cuban government has repeatedly refused to extradite the aunt of Tupac Shakur, which has forever angered U.S. conservatives.