September 29, 1998
President Fidel Castro
Plaza de la Revolucion
Dear President Castro,
I am writing to clarify my position on a resolution recently passed by the United States House of Representatives on September 14, 1998.
I, and some of the Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, mistakenly voted for House Concurrent Resolution 254 which called on the Government of Cuba to extradite to the United States Joanne Chesimard and all other individuals who have fled the United States from political persecution and received political asylum in Cuba. Joanne Chesimard was the birth name of a political activist known to most Members of the Congressional Black Caucus as Assata Shakur.
For the record, I am opposed to the resolution.
By way of explanation, the Republican leadership quietly slipped this bill onto the accelerated suspension calendar last week as one of thirteen (13) bills that had been announced that same day. The suspension calendar is supposed to be reserved for non-controversial legislation like naming federal buildings and post offices. But, the Republican leadership chose to push this provision in an apparent effort to look tough on Cuba for The November elections.
As evidence of their deceptive intent, the resolution did not mention Assata Shakur, but chose to only call her Joanne Chesimard.
Unfortunately, none of our offices were alerted to the fact that this legislation was coming up for a vote by any of the numerous advocacy groups that monitor related issues.
Once I discovered the nature of this deception, I prepared a statement of opposition, which I delivered on the floor the next day. I unequivocally stated that a mistake was made and I would have voted against the legislation.
Allow me to explain why I am opposed to this measure.
I support the right of all nations to grant political asylum to individuals fleeing political persecution. The United States grants political asylum to individuals from all over the world who successfully prove they are fleeing political persecution. Other sovereign nations have the same right, including the sovereign nation of Cuba.
Although there are Members of Congress that may disagree with particular decisions made by other sovereign governments regarding political asylum, it is the inviolate right of legitimate governments to grant asylum pursuant to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I will fight to maintain the ability of political refugees to find asylum in United States and respect the right of other governments to be able to grant political asylum. Just as we maintain the right to grant political asylum for individuals from Cuba, we must respect the right of the government of Cuba to grant political asylum for individuals from the U.S. fleeing political persecution.
I believe that the current thirty-seven year embargo on Cuba is a relic of a Cold War past, now over, and is primarily hurting the poor and working people of Cuba. I was encouraged by the words of the Pope in his visit to Cuba this year, and look forward to a new era of US-Cuban relations. Part of these efforts include work to allow humanitarian and medical aid for Cuba.
The second reason I oppose this measure is because I respect the right of Assata Shakur to seek political asylum. Assata Shakur has maintained that she was persecuted as a result of her political beliefs and political affiliations. As a result, she left the United States and sought political asylum in Cuba, where she still resides.
In a sad and shameful chapter of our history, during the 1960s and 1970s, many civil rights, Black Power and other politically active groups were secretly targeted by the FBI for prosecution based on their political beliefs. The groups and individuals targeted included Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, officials of the American Friends Service Committee, National Council of Churches and other civil rights, religious and peace movement leaders.
However, the most vicious and reprehensible acts were taken against the leaders and organizations associated with the Black Power or Black Liberation Movement. Assata Shakur, was a member of the Black Panther Party, one of the leading groups associated with the Black Liberation Movement. The Black Panther Party was the primary target of U.S. domestic government political harrassment and persecution during this era.
This illegal, clandestine political persecution was wrong in 1973, and remains wrong today.
I hope that my position is clear. I hope to see a new era of U.S.-Cuban relations in the future.
Maxine Waters, Chair
Congressional Black Caucus