Congressman Scott Garrett

Representing the 5th District of New Jersey

Hiding in Cuba, fugitive Joanne Chesimard remains a terrorist thug

May 10, 2013
Opinion Pieces

On May 2, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made history by naming the first woman — Joanne Deborah Chesimard — to its Most Wanted Terrorist list. This distinction puts Chesimard in fitting company and includes a $2 million reward for information leading to her arrest. It is high time that Chesimard pay for the heinous crimes she committed.

The facts of the case illustrate the chilling nature of her crimes. Forty years ago, on May 2, 1973, two New Jersey State Troopers, Werner Foerster and James Harper, made a routine traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike near East Brunswick. After Foerster asked the vehicle’s driver to get out of the car, one of the passengers, Joanne Chesimard, pulled out a gun and began shooting. In the ensuing firefight, Chesimard and her accomplices hit Foerster twice in the chest and twice in the head — execution-style, with his own weapon — and Harper was hit once in the shoulder.

Chesimard — a member of the terrorist group Black Liberation Army and already a wanted fugitive for felony bank robbery — was quickly apprehended, convicted on eight charges and sentenced to life in prison. Two years into her sentence, Chesimard escaped from a New Jersey prison and spent several years on the run. In 1984, Chesimard resurfaced in Cuba and was granted political asylum by Communist dictator Fidel Castro. Under the alias Assata Shakur, she began a career as an author and activist, living comfortably under Cuban protection.

Four decades later, Chesimard remains a wanted fugitive, and Cuban authorities refuse to cooperate in her extradition. The Castro regime’s harboring of a convicted murderer is part and parcel of a deplorable record on human rights and the protection of individual freedoms.

For example, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates that the number of Cuban political prisoners has recently increased, as have short-term detentions and harassment. On top of this increase, the Cuban authorities refuse to release American contractor Alan Gross from his 15-year prison sentence for providing Internet communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. These facts suggest that the Castro regime still grips tightly to its repressive past.

The harsh reality of life in Cuba continues against an unfortunate political backdrop here in the United States. Over the past four years, the Obama administration has lifted all restrictions on family travel and remittances to the totalitarian state, in addition to significantly easing general travel restrictions to the island nation.

In fact, just recently the administration allowed Jay-Z and Beyonce to visit the island for an educational and cultural exchange. It is baffling that the administration would choose to legitimize the Castro regime through cultural exchange of high-profile American entertainers — and all the while the regime provides refuge to a convicted murderer.

It is my hope that the Cuban people can be free and that our nations may normalize relations. The extradition of Joanne Chesimard should be one of the first steps in the reconciliation process. Chesimard’s case is not a matter of degrees, shades of gray or some vague middle ground. Chesimard’s case is matter of fact: She was fairly tried and duly convicted. This is not an instance of political repression, but of criminal justice.

Chesimard is a terrorist thug who took the life of Werner Foerster, a beloved husband, father, friend and colleague, in cold blood. It is my hope that the FBI’s renewed attention to this case will finally bring Joanne Chesimard to justice. Werner Foerster’s family, friends, and colleagues have already waited four decades too long, and continued delay is not acceptable.

U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett is the congressman for the 5th Congressional District of New Jersey, serving since 2003. He is a Republican.

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