Normalizing relations with Cuba will pay dividends for US domestic security and law enforcement. Though the international politics has gotten the majority of the attention throughout the decades-long rift, domestic security is what stands to take the biggest leap forward for the US if the relations go well.
The US and Cuba technically have an extradition treaty on the books dating from 1926. But it hasn’t been enforced since the US officially cut diplomatic ties in 1961. The severed diplomatic relations were preceded by a series of Cuban nationalizations and American economic retaliations in 1959 and 1960 led up to a complete US embargo on the island.
Since the 1960s Cuba has been the destination of choice for many criminals on the run. Fugitives have fled there by the dozens trying to escape the long arm of the US justice system. The FBI lists 70 wanted individuals that are suspected to be living in Cuba, and many of them are on the Most Wanted list.
Cuba has historically offered asylum to them, simply to give the US a black eye. Most individuals have been allowed to stay indefinitely and relatively unmolested, at least until they give the Castro Regime a reason to reverse that decision.
While the FBI may have hope of apprehending many of the dozens of fugitives, there is no doubt that some will see extradition coming the pike and try to slip out of the country before agreements are settled and laws are enforced. US law enforcement will have to be diligent to catch many of them as they flee the country or perhaps as they enter others.
Some of these fugitives are more important than others. Assata Shakur, a convicted cop-killer and domestic terrorist for whom the FBI offers a $1 million reward (and the Attorney General of New Jersey has matched that for a total of $2 million), has been living in Cuba under political asylum since 1984. The FBI also offers a $1 million reward for or Victor Manuel Gerena, a former Wells Fargo employee who escaped with $7 million in cash during an armed robbery, also suspected of living in Cuba.
The thawing relations have already resulted in two important events, the release of as development worker and a prisoner exchange between the two nations. On December 17 Alan Gross, a USAID employee jailed for accusations of spying, was released on humanitarian grounds. This was a watershed moment provided the US with good faith about the prisoner exchange on the same day.
The US released the “Cuban Five”, a group of five Cuban intelligence officers arrested in 1998 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. In return Cuba released an unnamed Cuban spy who spent nearly 20 years in prison after being convicted of working for the US. Suspicions are that this unnamed spy was Rolando “Roly” Sarraff Trujillo, who was a Cuban cryptographer and double agent for the CIA.
These are legitimately large steps on the part of both the US and Cuba. President Obama should be given credit for taking steps that no president did for half a century. And Raúl Castro should get credit for being willing to break out of the mold that his brother cultivated for 50 years. The FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies are some of many, hoping to benefit the new momentum in improving the US-Cuba relationship.