Assata Shakur and others remain on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list

By Ethan Freedman

HAVANA – Over the past three decades, a number of Americans wanted for politically-related killings have successfully sought asylum in Cuba.

U.S. diplomats point out, for example, that there is a $1 million reward out for a former Black Liberation Army foot soldier Assata Shakur.

Shakur, now in her 60s and formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, is wanted in the killing of New Jersey state trooper in 1973. In a daring 1979 prison break, fellow revolutionaries succeeded in getting Shakur out of jail and she surfaced in Cuba, as Newsday first revealed in 1987.

One of those linked to the prison breakout -– and also to the 1991 upstate New York Brinks robbery that led to the death of a law enforcement officer -– is Nehanda Obiodun, also now in her 60s.

Obiodun, on the run from law enforcement, eventually fled to Cuba in the early 1990s.  Obiodun has been involved in the hip-hop music movement in Havana.

Shakur and Obiodun have lately been keeping relatively low profiles in Cuba, though a Cuban official told Stony Brook University’s Journalism Without Walls that Obiodun had been seen recently and “did not appear well.”

Among other U.S. fugitives who were known to be, or believed to be, in Cuba are:

-Victor Manuel Gerena, a former bank security guard who is accused of robbing an armored car company in Connecticut in 1983. He made off with more than $7 million in one of the largest robbery hauls in U.S. history. He has been on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” fugitive list for years, and like Shakur, has a $1 million bounty on his head.

-Roberto Vesco fled the U.S. in 1972 to avoid facing charges following allegations that he stole $224 million from a Swiss-based mutual stock fund. He had been in Cuba since 1982. Fourteen years later, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for illegally marketing a drug he claimed could cure cancer and AIDS, in Cuba. Cuban records indicate he died, in prison, of lung cancer on Nov. 23, 2007, at age 71.

Wayne Smith, who once headed the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba and is now on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, said he does not believe the issue of the fugitives is high on the list of concerns of top Cuban and U.S. officials.

In the past, however, FBI agents and New Jersey State Troopers have said they will always insist that Shakur and others be extradited to the U.S.