New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate — finally broke his silence on President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba in a letter to the President issued on Sunday.
Christie urged Obama to demand Cuba hand over Joanne Chesimard, an American fugitive who escaped from prison after she was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper. Christie also joined the chorus of Republicans who oppose Obama’s decision to re-establish ties with Cuba without substantial political reforms.
Chesimard, now known as Assata Shakur, was a member of the militant group the Black Liberation Army and gained political asylum in Cuba, where she lives freely. Chesimard is on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list, with a $1 million reward for information leading to her capture.
“Despite my profound disagreement with this decision, I believe there is an opportunity for Cuba and its government to show the American people it is serious about change,” Christie wrote to Obama, according to a copy of the letter Christie’s office provided. “If, as you assert, Cuba is serious about embracing democratic principles then this action would be an essential first step.”
Christie added that he was “very disappointed” that Chesimard’s return was not already one of the conditions of normalizing relations in Obama’s deal with Cuban President Raul Castro.
“The family of her victims, like so many of those who have, and continue to suffer under the Castro regime, deserve this basic decency before further steps toward Cuba are taken by this government,” Christie wrote.
Senate Republicans, including Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, have already vowed to do everything they can to prevent or blunt the impact of Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. The pair — members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — pledged to tie up funds for a planned embassy and to prevent Obama’s nominee for ambassador to win confirmation.