Christie bashes Cuba over Chesimard
Christie bashes Cuba over Chesimard
Nicole Gaudiano, USA TODAY 6:19 p.m. EDT April 21, 2015
WASHINGTON — Cuba should stop harboring terrorists, including the
convicted killer of a New Jersey state trooper, as a precondition for
normalized relations with the U.S., Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday.
The New Jersey Republican, speaking at an international business and
diplomacy conference at the State Department, questioned how the U.S.
could seek diplomatic relations with Cuba — or rescind its designation
as a state sponsor of terrorism — while Joanne Chesimard enjoys asylum
there. Chesimard, a member of the former Black Liberation Army, is on
the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
President Obama laid out a plan for normalizing relations with Cuba in
December. Last week, he proposed removing Cuba from the list of
countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism.
“I have no problem with Cuba being welcomed back into the family of
civilized nations, but you have to be civilized,” Christie said. “And
harboring a cop killer is not civilized conduct.”
Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, was the only governor
who spoke at the annual Washington Conference on the Americas, held by
the Council of the Americas and the State Department.
Other speakers included Secretary of State John Kerry, Transportation
Secretary Anthony Foxx, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Honduran
President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Christie was interviewed by Susan Segal, president and CEO of the
Americas Society/Council of the Americas, and took questions from the
audience, which included business executives, federal officials and
foreign diplomats. The conference focused on integration and innovation
as catalysts for growth in the Western Hemisphere.
Christie highlighted his trips to Canada and Mexico last year, saying,
“We need to make these neighbors of ours a first thought, not an
afterthought.” He said one reason for the trips was to expand business
and trade relationships. Such travel, he said, is “good for my state.”
Christie acknowledged that his “strong feelings” about Cuba don’t
reflect his opinion of trade with other countries.
Chesimard was convicted in 1977 of first-degree murder in the death of
New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and of critically wounding
another officer. She escaped from prison two years after receiving a
life sentence and was granted political asylum by Cuba.
“Send Joanne Chesimard back,” Christie said. “Then, maybe we can start
to talk about what … to do in terms of normalization of relations with
Christie, a former U.S. attorney, said state troopers protect him every
day and Cuba’s decision to protect Chesimard is personal to him.
“This trooper gave his life unnecessarily and our criminal justice
system worked the way it’s supposed to,” he said. “And we have Cuba
deciding to be judge, jury and harborer. That’s not right.”
Tuesday’s conference came two weeks after the Summit of the Americas in
Panama where Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro in the first
face-to-face discussions between U.S. and Cuban leaders in decades. It
was the first time Cuba has been allowed to attend the summit.
During his remarks, Kerry said the Obama administration is committed to
moving forward with normalizing relations with Cuba.
“This new course is based not on a leap of faith, but on a conviction
that the best way to promote U.S. interests and values while also
helping to bring greater freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people is
exactly what we are doing,” Kerry said.
Several New Jersey lawmakers have spoken out against the policy,
including Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants.
Both the State Troopers’ Fraternal Association of New Jersey and the New
Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police oppose normalizing
relations with Cuba until Chesimard is returned.
Also Tuesday, administration officials and independent experts told
lawmakers at a Senate hearing that food and agricultural exports to Cuba
could triple to $1 billion annually as relations between the two
That’s one reason congressional opponents of improved relations with
Cuba face a tough battle: Many Republicans representing rural areas
would like to see their farmers and ranchers shipping products to the
“Cuba represents a remarkable opportunity for American farmers, (and)
boosting our commercial ties would have significant benefits for both of
our economies,” Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman said at the
hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Contributing: Ledyard King
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