HAVANA - Cuba said Monday that it has a right to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives, the clearest sign yet that the communist government has no intention of extraditing America's most-wanted woman despite the warming of bilateral ties.
New Jersey Gov. Christie has urged President Obama to demand the return of fugitive Joanne Chesimard before restoring full relations under a historic detente announced by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro last week.
Chesimard was granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped from the prison where she was serving a sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 during a gunbattle after being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Asked if returning fugitives was open to negotiation, Cuba's head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal, told the Associated Press that "every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted. . . . That's a legitimate right."
"We've explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum," Vidal said.
"There's no extradition treaty in effect between Cuba and the U.S.," she added.
In a letter to the White House made public Sunday, Christie said Cuba's asylum for Chesimard, who has changed her name to Assata Shakur, was "an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police, who have tirelessly tried to bring this killer back to justice."
The first woman ever placed on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list was living so openly in Havana that her number was listed in the phone book.
The FBI and the New Jersey State Police have offered a $2 million reward for information leading to Shakur's capture.