Cuba: The Pitfalls of Extradition / Juan Juan Almeida

Joanne Chesimard

Juan Juan Almeida, 23 April 2015 — Havana promised the Bush administration that it would no longer accept fugitives from American justice such as Joanne Chesimard, shown here in footage shot on a Havana street.

Politics is the only one of the performing arts in which there are no surprises. Despite the visible efforts made by Cuba and the United States to normalize relations and the Cuban government’s recent agreement to cooperate in resolving cases of U.S. fugitives living on the island, I question whether Joanne Chessimard (who was granted political asylum in 1984) or William Guillermo Morales (who also has asylum) will ever be extradited.

Their extradition would set a precedent that would put pressure on authorities to hand over others, such Juan Lisímaco Gutiérrez Fischmann (former husband of Mariela Castro), who have sought refuge in Havana by claiming political persecution.

It is more likely that, in the interim, Cuba will return those suspected of involvement of more ordinary crimes such as money laundering, counterfeiting, and insurance, credit card and/or Medicare fraud.

Extradition is a judicial tool that can be described as being either “active,” such as when one country formally requests another country hand over a certain individual, or “passive,” as when a country makes the request to a point of contact (i.e., a human being).

In other countries it is handled in different ways but in Cuba a “passive” extradition request is made through diplomatic channels. After being reviewed, it is passed on to the executive branch. Since there is no separation of powers in Cuba, the judicial branch is then ordered to process and resolve the case.

We saw the most recent example of an active deportation in 2004 when an Argentine businessman with Mexican citizenship, Carlos Agustín Ahumada Kurtz, was detained in a house in Nuevo Vedado and later deported from Cuba after an extradition request was made by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A very different case was that of Robert Vesco. A Cuban judge ordered his extradition but the executive branch, in the person of Fidel Castro, refused to turn him over, citing risks to national security, although there were some who argued the issue had more to do with “family assets.”

Cuba does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. but that does not mean a person cannot be extradited. Herein lies a useful tool which the Cuban government uses. According to international law, in the absence of a treaty, the laws of the country to which the claim is submitted determine whether a person can be handed over or not.

William Guillermo Morales fell victim to his own bomb.* The other subterfuges were hidden in the legal procedure itself. As mentioned earlier, the process begins with a diplomatic memorandum requesting the provisional detention of the person in question for the purpose of extradition. But it has to meet certain requirements. The requesting government has to provide data identifying the individual to be detained. It must also show proof of an arrest warrant, commit to formalize the extradition request by a specified date, agree to reciprocity and acknowledge that the case is in fact an emergency situation.

I should point out that “an emergency situation” is taken to mean the individual being sought poses a flight risk from the country being petitioned.

Given their status as political refugees, might one think that Joanne Chessimard and William Guillermo Morales would be strongly motivated to flee the island? Perhaps, but where would they go? Venezuela is not an option. President Maduro has as many chromosomes as a horse (Equus asinus). The last thing he wants is a problem like this.

Those with political refugee status in Cuba know that some future negotiated agreement might subject them to cross-border detention (or adduction). More than a possibility, for them extradition is a distant, dream-like vision of reality.

*Translator’s note: A member of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas Liberacion Nacional), an organization advocating for Puerto Rican independence through acts of violence. On July 12, 1978, Morales was working on a bomb at a house in East Elmhurst, New York, when it exploded. Morales was severely injured, taken to a hospital and was later transferred to the Bellevue Hospital prison ward. Morales escaped from Bellevue and fled to Mexico, where he was captured in May, 1983. He was eventually handed over to Cuban authorities and is believed to still be in that country.