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News :: Human Rights
U.S. menaces Assata Shakur, Cuba
by David Hoskins
13 May 2005
One day after millions of workers around the world had reclaimed the streets in celebration of May Day, the U.S. ruling class launched an attack on a powerful symbol of liberation for the workers and oppressed inside the United States, Assata Shakur.
Modern fugitive slave bounty:
U.S. menaces Assata Shakur, Cuba
By David Hoskins
One day after millions of workers around the world had reclaimed the streets in celebration of May Day, the U.S. ruling class launched an attack on a powerful symbol of liberation for the workers and oppressed inside the United States.
On May 2, the Justice Department announced that it had posted a bounty of $1 million for the capture of Assata Shakur, a former Black Liberation Army leader who escaped from state prison in 1979.
Shakur’s case came to international atten tion in 1973 when she was pulled over along with two other liberationists on the New Jersey turnpike. The police claimed that the vehicle was stopped because of a faulty taillight. However, within minutes of being pulled over, Shakur and her companions found themselves in a shootout almost certainly started by the notoriously racist New Jersey State Troopers. Shakur was seriously wounded in the gun battle and one of her comrades was killed by the police. One police officer was also killed in the incident.
Shakur was subsequently arrested and framed on charges of carrying out an execution-style killing of the police officer. She was found guilty of the charges against her, despite the fact that all evidence indicated she was too injured to have carried out the act. She went on to spend six and a half years in prison.
In 1979, five years after having been forcibly separated from the child she gave birth to in prison, Shakur escaped from the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey. She lived underground for the next five years before publicly surfacing in Cuba in 1984.
‘I am a 20th-century escaped slave’
In a 1998 open letter to the nationally oppressed living inside the United States, she wrote: “My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th-century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the U.S. government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.”
She continued, “Free all Political Pris oners, I send you Love and Revolu tionary Greetings from Cuba, one of the largest, most resistant and most courageous palenques (Maroon Camps) that has ever existed on the Face of this Planet.”
Shakur’s allusion to slavery and southern palenques contains more than a hint of truth. Before the Civil War, the South ern land-owning class benefited from the super-exploitation of Black slave labor. The country was divided between slave states and so-called free states where slavery was illegal.
Slaves who resisted the cruelty and inhumanity of plantation life had two primary havens of escape. Some chose to go to the maroon camps of runaway slaves who hid out in remote places like the forests and swamps of Louisiana. Other slaves would attempt to make it to the free states where slavery was outlawed and where they hoped they could freely live in an open community.
In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring that citizens assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves, and denying the right to trial for any individual accused of being a fugitive slave. The act was intended to allow southern slaveholders to efficiently reclaim the individuals they held as property and was a controversial part of the Great Compromise of 1850 between slave and “free” states.
The recent $1 million bounty is a contemporary version of the Fugitive Slave Act. It is an attempt to allow the U.S. ruling class to reclaim a latter-day fugitive who has fought so heroically to free not just herself, but all those held captive by racism and modern wage-slavery. It is also a targeted attack on the great refuge—
the palenque—of socialist Cuba.
U.S. act of intimidation
Perhaps not coincidentally, the posting of the State Depart ment bounty follows on the heels of two important announcements by the Cuban government. Cuba said in April that it was plan ning to double the minimum wage and significantly increase welfare payments for single mothers, widows and the disabled by May Day 2005. (BBC, April 22)
Cuba’s economy, recently buoyed by trade agreements with China and Vene zuela, is the strongest it has been since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the island had to face a punishing U.S. economic blockade almost alone.
Cuba has also given outspoken support to Venezuela’s extradition request for right-wing terrorist Luis Posada Carilles to face charges for the torture of human rights activists in the 1970s. Posada Carilles was found guilty of masterminding the 1976 attack on a Cubana Airlines plane that resulted in the loss of 73 lives. He also played a role in terrorist attacks on Cuban hotels in the late 1990s. (Prensa Latina, May 2).
Posada Carilles has a long history of working with the CIA. He carried out these terrorist activities and human rights abuses with the full knowledge and blessing of the U.S. government. He recently returned to the U.S. and now resides openly in Miami, Fla., where he is free to plot and network with other anti-Cuban terrorists.
By posting an increased bounty for the capture of Assata Shakur, the State Department hopes to fulfill three simultaneous goals. First, divert attention from its own history of harboring terrorists by resurrecting the phony charges against Shakur in an endeavor to undermine Cuba’s credibility on this issue. Wash ing ton is hoping that this smokescreen will provide a shield from the international scrutiny that could force it to take action against Posada Carilles. It is also a way of deflecting criticism over the harsh sentences dealt to the Cuban 5, who were in the U.S. trying to protect Cuba from terrorists like Posada Carriles.
Secondly, the bounty could become another piece of the overall strategy to isolate Cuba and sabotage its economy. The U.S. ruling class cannot be pleased with the news that Cuba’s revolution is once again on solid financial footing. The increased bounty may grant the U.S. propaganda machine an opening to distort the case of Assata Shakur and pressure other governments to break diplomatic relations and economic ties with Cuba.
A third goal furthered by this bounty is to intimidate the revolutionary anti-imperialist movement inside the United States, particularly young people and students. Shakur is a symbol of struggle for millions of working-class youth and young people of color. As the godmother of Tupac Shakur, she holds a special place inside the hip hop movement for culture and justice.
Her message is carried on through progressive and revolutionary hip hop artists such as Chuck D, Common and Paris. The story of Assata Shakur demonstrates that it is possible to stand up against injustice, to carry out revolutionary action against the state, and in the end to still live outside the confines of prison.
Her story enables the new rising generation of revolutionaries to build a bridge to their dream of liberation and transform it into reality. When all is said and done, that is why the U.S. ruling class views Assata Shakur as a real threat. And that is why no amount of money is too much to attempt to strip this fugitive slave of her freedom.
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This work is in the public domain