Saturday, June 02, 2007

Havana: U.S. fugitives are no longer welcome

Havana: U.S. fugitives are no longer welcome
Cuba has said it will stop providing safe haven to U.S. fugitives who arrive on the island.

A little-noticed passage in two State Department reports says Havana has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to U.S. fugitives who enter Cuba -- a promise the Castro government has met twice since September.

The promise and deportations amount to a rare sign of cooperation by Havana. Some 70 U.S. fugitives are believed to be living in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

Cuba has refused to return them, generally arguing that the U.S. charges against them are ''political.'' The refusals were among the reasons the State Department used for including Cuba in its list of nations that support international terrorism.

But a brief passage in the State Department's voluminous 2005 and 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism -- the 2006 report was released April 30 -- that went largely unnoticed until now said Cuba ``has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to new U.S. fugitives who may enter Cuba.''

State Department spokesmen declined comment on who made the promise, when or whether it involved any U.S. counter-promise. Havana has long demanded the return of five convicted Cuban spies jailed in Florida.

Such Cuban acts of cooperation have come under more scrutiny since Raúl Castro took the reins of power after his brother Fidel Castro fell ill last summer. However, the 2005 report on terrorism, the first to include the wording on ending the safe haven, was issued before the ailment was announced on July 31.


State Department officials noted Cuba's history of on-and-off collaboration with the United States makes it hard to know if Havana's promise is signaling a new stance.

''We have no way of knowing for sure what the Cuban government is trying to accomplish, if anything,'' said Eric Watnik, a department spokesman.

Cuba has demanded the United States extradite anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela, where he faces charges of masterminding the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976 that killed 73. U.S. immigration fraud charges against Posada were dropped recently by a U.S. judge.

Cuba has returned at least two U.S. fugitives since the promise first appeared in the State Deparment report.

In September, a South Florida man kidnapped his son, stole a plane at a airport in the Florida Keys and flew to Cuba. The son was later returned to his mother in Mexico and the father was put on a plane to Miami, where he faces prosecution. That was the first time Cuba had returned a fugitive from U.S. justice, according to the 2006 U.S. report.

In April, Havana returned to Florida Joseph Adjmi, a fugitive sentenced to 10 years in U.S. prison for mail fraud in 1963.

Earlier this year Cuba also expelled to Bogotá Luis Hernando Gómez-Bustamante, wanted in Colombia as a leader of the Norte del Valle cartel. Colombia then extradited him to the United States.

Washington and Havana have long had tenuous communications on issues such as drug trafficking and migration. In early 2006, the Cubans briefed the Coast Guard officer based at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana on their counter-drug trafficking operations. But the Cubans refused to allow Drug Enforcement Administration agents to question Gómez-Bustamante while he was detained there on immigration fraud charges.


An annual report on drug trafficking issued in March by the State Department said Cuban officials ''profess interest'' in more bilateral contacts with Washington on drug trafficking matters.

The Bush administration suspended biannual talks with Cuba on migration issues in 2004, and has refused any formal contacts with top Havana government officials.

Raúl Castro has on two occasions -- in August and December -- declared he would be willing to sit down and talk with Washington. The Bush administration replied that it was not interested in talks until Cuba takes the path of democracy.

No comments: