Home

New Jersey Republicans Set Stage for Fight on U.S.-Cuba Relations

Garrett and other New Jersey Republicans want Cuba to hand over an escaped fugitive before relations are normalized. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lawmakers are always eager to use appropriations bills to make political statements; this year, House Republicans are using the power of the purse to weigh in on President Barack Obama's move to normalize U.S. and Cuba relations.  

GOP lawmakers began to set the stage Wednesday, when New Jersey Republican Reps. Scott Garrett, Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur officially asked senior appropriators to withhold necessary funding to fulfill the diplomatic process unless the Cuban government agrees to extradite copkiller Joanne Chesimard, an enemy of the Garden State and a longtime fixture on the FBI's "most wanted" list. Chesimard was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper. Two years later, she escaped from her correctional facility and ultimately received political asylum in Cuba.  

"It is unacceptable to me that President Obama would even consider normalizing relations with a regime that harbors someone convicted of murdering one of New Jersey's finest, not to mention oppresses its own people and violates basic human rights and freedoms," MacArthur said in a statement.  

“The fact that Cuba flat-out refuses to extradite Chesimard and questions the judgment of our legal system proves they are not ready to continue discussions to normalize relations with the United States,” Garrett added in a separate quote accompanying the release of a letter the three lawmakers sent to the chairwoman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign operations, Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., respectively.  

Read the full letter below:  

Dear Chairwoman Granger and Ranking Member Lowey: As you begin crafting the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs spending bill for Fiscal Year 2016 we ask that you withhold funding required for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba until the Castro regime returns police killer Joanne Chesimard. Ms. Chesimard was found guilty in 1977 of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and critically injuring another state law enforcement officer.  She was sentenced to life in prison, but two years later escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.  She was granted political asylum by Cuba in 1984 and is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. Despite numerous appeals over the years from New Jersey and federal officials to return Ms. Chesimard and other fugitives, such as William Morales, back to the United States to face justice, the Castro regime has remained intransigent.  Most recently, a high ranking Cuban official stated that any consideration of extradition of Ms. Chesimard is off the table.  This is completely unacceptable. Any attempt by the Obama Administration to normalize relations with Cuba must include the extradition of Joanne Chesimard back to New Jersey so that she can face justice and serve out her sentence.  Until Cuba accepts this condition, we request all funds directed toward normalization be withheld.  Related: Boehner Invites Anti-Castro Cubans to Obama Speech Pelosi Leads House Democratic CODEL to Cuba (Updated) The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.