Tuesday, May 17, 2005

BY RICK HEPP
New Jersey Star-Ledger

New Jersey authorities will meet with an anti-Castro group today in Miami to discuss ways to publicize a $1 million bounty on JoAnne Chesimard inside Cuba, which has harbored the convicted trooper killer for two decades.

Attorney General Peter Harvey, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes and Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, who arranged the meeting, will meet with leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation and Florida’s attorney general to discuss how to capture the former Black Liberation Army member.

“They have their own inside sources who can spread the word,” said Sires, who escaped with his parents from Communist-controlled Cuba at age 10 and is a longtime member of the Cuban American National Foundation. “We’re going to ask them to use their ability to get messages into Cuba to tell the people that this woman, who (Cuban President Fidel) Castro has made into a hero, is no hero and is nothing but a criminal.”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced it had increased the reward for Chesimard from $150,000 to $1 million on May 2—the 32nd anniversary of the slaying of state Trooper Werner Foerster during a gunfight on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Chesimard was convicted of murdering Foerster by shooting him twice as he lay wounded. But she escaped in 1979 from the Clinton Correctional Institution for Women in Hunterdon County—now known as the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women—when three gunmen posing as visitors took two guards hostage and drove her out of the facility’s maximum-security unit in a van.

Authorities know Chesimard has been living in Cuba under political asylum since the mid-1980s. Now 57, she goes by the name Assata Shakur.

Castro blasted the United States last week for raising the reward for Chesimard, whom he called innocent and a victim of persecution.

Speaking in a lengthy televised appearance, Castro referred to the woman as a fighter for African-American rights and said U.S. officials “want to present her as a terrorist.” He called that “an infamous lie.”

Sires (D-Hudson) said he hopes the Cuban American National Foundation can get word inside the island nation about the $1 million reward because “nothing in the island gets published” without Castro’s consent. In addition to word of mouth, Sires said the foundation is planning to broadcast news of the increased bounty over Radio Marti and TV Marti.

Established in Florida in 1981, the Cuban American National Foundation describes itself as a “nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing freedom and democracy in Cuba.”