issues statement on U.S. Freedom Fighter Assata Shakur
29 September 1998
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.
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
As evidence of their deceptive intent, the resolution
did not mention Assata Shakur, but chose to only call her Joanne
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
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
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
(Editor's note: Following is an attachment to the
letter. It is part of the official record of U.S. House activities.)
PERSONAL EXPLANATION (House of Representatives
- September 15,1998) Page: H7785
Ms. WATERS. Mr. Speaker, I inadvertently voted
'yea' on rollcall vote No. 428. If I had been aware of this, I would
have changed my vote to 'nay' instead of 'yea.'