Cuba pledges refuge for ‘U.S. civil rights fighters’

Assata Shakur

On June 16, Donald Trump, while announcing the rollback of President Obama’s modest improvements in U.S. imperialism’s posture towards revolutionary Cuba, demanded Cuba return freedom fighter Assata Shakur.

As part of the Cuban government’s overall response to Trump’s attack, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez rebuffed Trump’s demand: “Regarding the issue of the so-called ‘U.S. fugitives in Cuba,’ I can reaffirm that, under our national law and international law and the Latin American tradition, Cuba has granted political asylum or refuge to U.S. civil rights fighters. Of course these people will not be returned to the United States, which lacks the legal, political, and moral foundation to demand this.” (telesur.net, June 20)

In May 1973, Assata Shakur, former Black Panther Party activist and member of the Black Liberation Army, was in a car stopped by New Jersey state troopers.  A shootout broke out. One trooper and the car’s driver were killed, and Shakur was severely wounded.

Another trooper initially testified that Shakur shot and killed the cop, but then admitted he lied. In her trial, it was revealed that Shakur never even touched a weapon let alone fired one. The police bullets that pierced Shakur had severed nerves in her arms and shoulders, making it impossible for her to fire a weapon.

Nevertheless, an all-white jury, including five friends and family of N.J. state troopers, convicted Shakur of murder simply because she was present at the shootout. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Assata Shakur received horrible treatment in prison. In 1979, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights wrote: “One of the worst cases is that of Assata Shakur, who spent over twenty months in solitary confinement in two separate men’s prisons subject to conditions totally unbefitting any prisoner. Many more months were spent in solitary confinement in mixed or all-women’s prisons. Presently, after protracted litigation, she is confined at Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in maximum security. She has never on any occasion been punished for any infraction of prison rules which might in any way justify such cruel or unusual punishment.”

Assata Shakur gave birth to her daughter Kakuya Shakur in 1974.  While in the hospital she was beaten and restrained by prison guards. On Nov. 2, 1979, with the help of BLA members, Assata Shakur escaped from the New Jersey Clinton Correctional Facility. The FBI and local police conducted a massive, nationwide manhunt for Shakur, including warrantless searches through a whole apartment building in Harlem.

In 1984, Shakur managed to reach Cuba, where the government immediately granted her asylum. She was reunited with her daughter in 1985. In 1987, she published her autobiography, and in 1997, she wrote the book “Still Black, Still Strong” with Dhoruba bin Wahad and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza wrote: “When I use Assata’s powerful demand in my organizing work, I always begin by sharing where it comes from, sharing about Assata’s significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what it’s political purpose and message is, and why it’s important in our context.” (thefeministwire.com, Oct. 7, 2014)

Assata’s pledge affirms: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.  We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

U.S. imperialism has long sought to reimprison Assata Shakur. New Jersey and the federal government have offered a $2 million bounty for her capture. But revolutionary Cuba has long stood on the side of the oppressed people of the U.S. and around the world.  No amount of bullying by Boss Trump is going to shake its resolve.