The United States and Cuba have restored diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of tension between the two countries. Travel restrictions have loosened, and a number of U.S, airlines will soon begin operating increased flight options between the U.S. and Cuba. However, Cuba remains a country with no extradition treaty agreement with the United States. As the relationship between the two countries continues to thaw, will the number of fugitives taking shelter in Cuba be turned over to American authorities to face criminal charges?
The U.S. and Cuba are engaged in law enforcement talks regarding turning over fugitives in both countries. Cuba has asked the U.S. to turn over a number of individuals, including Luis Posada Carriles, suspected for his involvement in a series of bombings against Cuba, including bombing a Cuban airliner in 1976 which resulted in the deaths of all 73 people on board.
Extradition is the formal process where one country wants another country to turn over a suspect to face charges. In most cases, extradition is regulated by treaty, which covers the process for extraditing individuals. The U.S. has extradition treaties with most countries; however, there are a number of other countries with no extradition agreement with the U.S. This includes Cuba. However, Cuba is still able to turn over individuals to U.S. authorities, even without any extradition agreement.
Cuba has already returned one American fugitive to U.S. authorities. Shawn Wegmann was wanted on firearms charges and is suspected of being an enforcer for a motorcycle gang. He fled to Cuba on October 31st of last year and was returned to U.S. custody in December. He now has the distinction of being the first fugitive to be returned to the U.S. since diplomatic relations were restored last July.
There are also a number of Americans suspected of crimes who fled to Cuba during the 1970s and 80s. Among those are Charles Hill and Nehanda Abiodun. Hill was a black militant wanted for his alleged involvement in the killing of a police officer in 1971. Abiodun is wanted in connection with an armed car robbery that left three people dead, including 2 police officers. However, both have told the Associated Press that the Cuban government has assured them that they are not at risk of being extradited to the U.S.
Assata Shakur, previously known as Joanne Chesimard, is the first woman to be named on the FBI's most-wanted list for terrorism. She was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1977. She escaped two years later, fleeing to Cuba, where she was given asylum. The Cuban government has not given any indication yet that they will be granting extradition for the above individuals, or other fugitives that have been granted asylum by Cuba.
One limitation to turning over suspects to U.S. authorities may depend on whether the suspect will be facing capital punishment. There are a number of countries that have extradition agreements with the U.S. that will not turn over a suspect unless they can be assured that the individual will not face the death penalty. Cuba could similarly limit extradition. Cuba is considered a de facto abolitionist country, after more than 13 years without an execution.