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    THE AMERICAN FUGITIVES OF HAVANA

    THE AMERICAN FUGITIVES OF HAVANA
    By Jon Lee Anderson , AUGUST 31, 2016

    When a cold war winds down, what happens to its spies and traitors? The
    British double agents Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Donald Maclean were
    able to see out their days in Moscow while it was still ruled by
    Communists, without fears that their hosts might betray them and send
    them back to an unforgiving Great Britain.

    Other scenarios, such as that of the United States and Cuba, are more
    complicated. On December 17, 2014, the same day that the United States
    and Cuba announced the restoration of diplomatic relations, an exchange
    of long-imprisoned spies and double agents also took place. Three Cuban
    sleeper agents who had been imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998 were
    released from U.S. federal prisons and flown home. Simultaneously,
    Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a C.I.A. double agent who had been held in a
    Cuban prison since 1995, was flown to the U.S., as was Alan Gross, a
    State Department contractor who was arrested in 2009 for smuggling
    Internet equipment onto the island for dissident groups.

    But the fates of many fugitive citizens who were given refuge in the
    United States or Cuba remain in limbo. Among them are people sought back
    home for crimes including murder, kidnapping, bank robbery, and
    terrorism. Curious about such people, I recently asked an American
    official what prevented the U.S. government from arresting, and possibly
    extraditing, Luis Posada Carriles, an eighty-eight-year-old Cuban exile
    living in Florida, on terrorism charges.

    Posada, a former C.I.A. operative who spent most of the past half
    century involved in efforts to violently destabilize the Castro
    government, has been on the top of Cuba’s most-wanted list for decades.
    I ticked off the long list of his alleged crimes—most notably, the
    bombing of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455, in 1976, which killed all
    seventy-three passengers onboard, and a number of bombings and
    assassination attempts across the Western Hemisphere. As recently as
    1997, Posada admitted to planning the bombing of a Havana hotel, which
    killed an Italian tourist.

    The official listened calmly, nodding his head as I spoke. Eventually,
    he told me, “The complication is that Cuba is also harboring people that
    the United States would like to see face justice back home.” He
    mentioned Joanne Chesimard, who goes by the name Assata Shakur, the aunt
    of the late rapper Tupac Shakur and a former member of the Black
    Liberation Army, a short-lived offshoot of the Black Panther Party that
    was devoted to armed struggle.

    Shakur, a native New Yorker, has been living in Cuba since 1984. She
    arrived there after several years on the lam, following her escape from
    a prison in New Jersey, where she was serving a life sentence for the
    1973 murder of a U.S. state trooper. (She was also tried for but not
    convicted of crimes including bank robbery, kidnapping, and other
    murders.) Shakur was granted political asylum in Cuba, where she was
    given a job and a home. She is now sixty-nine, remains on the F.B.I.’s
    Most Wanted list, and is the undisputed doyenne of the estimated
    seventy-odd American fugitives living in Cuba. Her 1987 memoir, “Assata:
    An Autobiography,” whose cover features a photograph of her looking over
    her shoulder at the camera, can be found in many of Havana’s state-run
    bookstores, alongside books about Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

    Most of the American fugitives in Cuba are radicals of Shakur’s era.
    Charlie Hill, who is in his mid-sixties, was a member of a militant
    group called the Republic of New Afrika, which sought to create an
    independent black nation in the American South. Hill was accused, with
    two comrades, of killing a policeman in New Mexico in 1971. Several
    weeks later, the three men hijacked a passenger plane to Cuba, where
    they were granted asylum. Both of Hill’s comrades have died, but he
    remains in Havana. And there is the Columbia University graduate Cheri
    Dalton, who goes by Nehanda Abiodun, also a veteran of the Republic of
    New Afrika. Abiodun is sought for her involvement in the armed robbery
    of a Brink’s armored truck in New York in 1981, in which two policemen
    and a security guard were killed. She is also thought to have helped
    Shakur break out of prison. Abiodun, who either fled to Cuba with Shakur
    or followed shortly after, has reinvented herself there as a mentor to
    rap artists.

    Through the years, I’ve met several of the American fugitives in Cuba.
    One of them, the quiet and unassuming William Lee Brent, was the
    bodyguard of the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver. After a 1968
    shootout with police in San Francisco, Brent hijacked a jet to Havana,
    where he went on to teach English in elementary and secondary schools.
    When I met him, back in the nineteen-nineties, he expressed a
    bittersweet nostalgia for life in the United States. Not long afterward,
    he wrote a memoir, “Long Time Gone,” about his life on the run. Brent
    died, of pneumonia, in 2006.

    I also ran into Robert Vesco, a flamboyantly wealthy American financier
    who became an outlaw, in 1973, after the S.E.C. accused him of robbing a
    mutual fund of over two hundred million dollars. Vesco moved between the
    Bahamas, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica before fleeing to Cuba, in 1983.
    Before long, he was rumored to be assisting the Castro government with
    its international financial dealings. When I saw him, one day in 1994,
    we were the only two people waiting at a baggage carousel in a tiny room
    in the Havana airport terminal for Caribbean flights. I’d been advised
    by Cuban officials not to show any interest in him, and so I tried my
    best not to make eye contact. He seemed to have similar concerns, and
    discreetly moved behind a nearby pillar.

    Another day, I met Vesco’s wife and two sons after giving a talk at an
    international school in Havana. She and her boys came up to thank me for
    my talk, and we chatted for a while. They went by the last name Quinn,
    and had Costa Rican passports, but the faculty at the school knew who
    they really were. Shortly after that, Robert Vesco fell afoul of the
    Cuban authorities. In 1995, he was arrested, on suspicion of being a
    spy; he was eventually convicted of “fraud and illicit economic
    activity” and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. (In a curious
    twist, Richard Nixon’s nephew, Donald Nixon, Jr., who was visiting Vesco
    at the time of his arrest and apparently doing business with him, was
    also arrested and questioned by Cuban authorities, but was later
    released and allowed to leave Cuba.) Vesco never made it out of prison;
    he died, of an illness, in 2007, two years short of his release date.

    A pair of rogue former C.I.A. agents also saw out their days in Havana.
    After eleven years of covert service, from 1957 to 1968, Philip Agee was
    apparently conscience-stricken by what he had seen and done, and became
    a whistle-blower, publishing a tell-all book, “Inside the Company: CIA
    Diary,” in 1975. Agee was expelled, under U.S. pressure, from a handful
    of Western European countries and finally ended up in Cuba. In the years
    before his death, in 2008, Agee ran a Web site called cubalinda.com,
    which helped Americans who wished to circumvent the travel ban.

    Frank Terpil, the other former C.I.A. agent in Havana, died in March.
    Not one to suffer from a guilty conscience, Terpil was a more colorful
    personality than Agee, and happily told his story to various television
    documentarians over the years. Terpil, who left the C.I.A. in 1971, was
    reportedly fired for unspecified inappropriate activities, which may
    have included making money on the side during a posting in India. Terpil
    later sold his services to Muammar Qaddafi and the Ugandan despot Idi
    Amin. In 1981, an American judge sentenced Terpil, in absentia, to
    fifty-three years in prison for charges that included conspiring to
    smuggle guns to South America. Terpil made it to Cuba, so the story
    went, via the Cuban embassy in Beirut, where he asked for asylum in
    1982, as the Israelis invaded Lebanon. Once in Cuba, he lived under the
    pseudonym Robert Hunter and, if anyone asked, claimed to be Australian.

    William Morales, a former leader of a radical Puerto Rican guerrilla
    group that was known as the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or
    F.A.L.N., is another longtime fugitive and Havana resident whom I have
    met a couple of times through the years. Beginning in the
    nineteen-seventies, the F.A.L.N. waged an armed campaign for Puerto
    Rican independence. It carried out a number of bombing attacks in and
    around New York, including the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing, which
    killed four people and injured more than forty. Morales was the
    F.A.L.N.’s bomb maker, and a bomb-making explosion in 1978, which blew
    off most of his fingers and left his face badly scarred, led to his
    arrest and made him easy to identify. Still, Morales somehow managed to
    escape from the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital, where he was
    undergoing treatment, and made his way to Mexico.

    I first met Morales in 1983, in a Mexico City prison called Reformatorio
    del Norte. He had been tracked down by Mexican federal police and
    arrested, following a shootout in which one of the cops and Morales’s
    two companions had been killed. Because of his mangled hands, Morales
    had not fired any weapons himself, but he was charged with aiding and
    abetting the murder of the federale because he was heard to shout to his
    sidekicks, “Mata el hijueputa” (“Kill the son of a bitch”). I spent most
    of a day talking with Morales, in the hopes of being able to publish an
    interview with him, and recall him as having a madcap sense of humor. He
    spoke freely with me on the condition that I would not publish anything
    until he had consulted on the matter with his comrades. (Later, through
    an intermediary, I was sent word that the F.A.L.N.’s politburo
    disapproved of the idea, so the interview had to remain off the record.)
    In 1988, the Mexican government, which apparently wanted to thumb its
    nose at the U.S. request for Morales’s extradition, released him from
    prison and allowed him to travel to Cuba.

    I saw Morales again in 1999, at the University of Havana, where a throng
    of journalists had gathered to listen to the recently installed
    Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez give a speech to an audience that included
    Fidel Castro, Castro’s brother Raúl, and most of Cuba’s politburo. It
    was an extraordinary occasion, at which Chávez spoke for ninety minutes
    and Fidel sat attentively, smiling and listening to him as if to a
    prodigal son. At some point, I spotted Morales standing next to me; he
    was instantly recognizable, of course, because of his mutilated face and
    hands. When I introduced myself and reminded him of our previous
    encounter, he lit up and shook my hand warmly, and we whispered to each
    other as Chávez’s speech dragged on.

    At one point, Morales leaned over to me and quipped that, except for
    Pope John Paul II, who had come to Cuba the year before, he had never
    seen “el viejo,” as he called Fidel, sit and listen to somebody else
    talk for so long. What we were witnessing, it turned out, was the
    beginning of a close friendship between the Cuban leader and the younger
    Venezuelan man, a bond that ended only with Chávez’s death, from cancer,
    three years ago. That same day, the two men signed their first “oil for
    doctors” deal, in which Cuba received much-needed shipments of
    Venezuelan oil in exchange for tens of thousands of Cuban doctors going
    to work in Venezuela’s slums and countryside.

    According to his F.B.I. rap sheet, which offers a hundred thousand
    dollars for information leading to his arrest, Morales is now sixty-six
    and “should be considered armed and dangerous and an escape risk.”

    The status of Morales, Shakur, and the other American fugitives has been
    repeatedly raised by American diplomats in the negotiations that the
    U.S. and Cuba have conducted since December, 2014. In June, there was
    talk that Shakur and the others might be extradited, but both Hill and
    Abiodun told journalists that their Cuban handlers had reassured them
    that they were “safe.” There was no word from Shakur, who has kept a low
    profile for some time. Indeed, as long as Cuba’s government continues to
    claim to be a “revolutionary” one, it seems highly unlikely that its
    officials would turn over the aging American radicals to the U.S.
    criminal-justice system. To do so would be to betray the promise of safe
    refuge it made them back in the days of the Cold War, when their acts of
    violence had a political context.

    In the U.S., meanwhile, Posada also seems to be on safe ground. In his
    last known violent conspiracy, he and three accomplices were apprehended
    in Panama, in 2000. They were in possession of two hundred pounds of
    explosives and were plotting to kill Castro, who had arrived to attend a
    regional heads-of-state summit. Posada and the others were duly tried,
    convicted, and imprisoned, but, in 2004, in the final hours of her
    administration, Panama’s outgoing conservative President, Mireya
    Moscoso, pardoned them and allowed them to slip away.

    Soon enough, Posada reappeared in the United States, where he was
    arrested, on charges of immigration fraud: he was accused, bizarrely
    enough, of lying to U.S. immigration authorities about his involvement
    with the bombings in Cuba. He was soon released on bond. In 2011, after
    a trial in which his lawyer indicated that Posada was prepared to go
    public with the details of his C.I.A. past as part of his defense, he
    was found not guilty on all charges.

    So Posada remains a free man, in Miami, where, by all accounts, he lives
    peaceably. He is still regarded as a hero by some Cuban exiles for his
    role in the anti-Castro cause. He may well be the mastermind of the
    first terrorist bombing of a civilian passenger jet to have ever taken
    place in the Western Hemisphere, but, as the American official told me,
    “It’s complicated.”

    Jon Lee Anderson, a staff writer, began contributing to The New Yorker
    in 1998.

    Source: The American Fugitives of Havana – The New Yorker –
    www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-american-fugitives-of-havana