Questions About the Fate of Assata Shakur Arise After News of a Possible U.S. Prisoner Swap With Cuba.

Assata Shakur

After President Obama announced a major shift in the relations between the United States and Cuba, questions about the fate of Assata Shakur began to arise.

In 1973, Assata Shakur, one of the most visible members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the 1960’s and 1970’s, was involved in a police shootout which resulted in the death of a New Jersey State Trooper. She was indicted for murder as well as for several other crimes — which resulted in three acquittals and three dismissals. Shakur was sentenced to prison in 1977. In 1979, Shakur fled to Cuba after having escaped from a New Jersey state women’s prison. She was granted asylum by the Cuban government in 1984 and has been living in the country ever since, generally maintaining a low profile and entertaining occasional visitors.

Last year, Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed that Cuba had no intention of turning Assata Shakur over to U.S. authorities.

However, recent news that the U.S. might be negotiating a prisoner swap with Cuba, has cast some doubt on Machin’s assertion.

According to NBC News,

Cuba and the United States are discussing possible exchanges of prisoners, including the release of a woman considered one of the most damaging spies in recent history, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The discussions, said to be in their early stages, are part of efforts by the two countries toward normalization of diplomatic relations.

Among the names floated by Cuban leaders, officials say, is Ana Montes, convicted in 2002 of spying for the Cuban government for nearly two decades while working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

Among those U.S. officials would like back is Joanne Chesimard [Assata Shakur], who escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979 where she was serving a life sentence for killing a state trooper by shooting him with his own gun at a traffic stop.

According to the report, the U.S. government has declined to discuss and specifics of a possible prisoner swap, but did release the following statement:

“The United States continues to seek the return from Cuba of fugitives from U.S. justice. The Department repeatedly raises fugitive cases with the Cuban government and will continue to do so at every appropriate opportunity.”

Many supporters of Shakur are already speculating that she may have left Cuba for another country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

While prisoners exchanges are rare, they are not unprecedented.