Chris Christie Urges Port Authority Not to Approve Havana-Newark Flights

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One effect of increasingly normalized relations between the United States and Cuba will be an ability to travel between the two nations. But not everyone is okay with this move. In fact, New Jersey Governor and Republican primary candidate Chris Christie is fighting back–he has urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reject proposed United flights between Newark Liberty International Airport and Havana.

Surprisingly, Christie’s argument for why we shouldn’t allow flights between Newark and Havana has relatively little to do with Cuba itself. Instead, he’s demanding that Cuba return fugitive Joanne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur to U.S. custody. Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. In 1973 she and two others were involved in a shootout with the police on the New Jersey Turnpike that left Trooper Werner Foerster dead and another officer wounded. While she was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, she escaped prison and ended up in Cuba. She has taken state-sanctioned political refuge there since 1984, and is still wanted in the United States.

But, in Cuba, she has taken on a strange almost-folk hero status. Now 67, she’s viewed as a victim of American oppression and many believe she was wrongly prosecuted.

In his letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman John Degnan, Christie urged him to reject the proposed flights unless Shakur is extradited to the United States. In the letter, he stated:

I understand that the Port Authority is considering a request to open regular flights between Cuba and Newark Liberty International Airport. It is unacceptable to me as governor to have any flights between New Jersey and Cuba until, and unless, convicted cop-killer and escaped fugitive Joanne Chesimard [Assata Shakur] is returned to New Jersey to face justice.

This isn’t the first time that Christie has brought up Shakur when disagreeing with a move toward more open relations with Cuba. Last December, Christie wrote a letter to President Obama that also echoed this sentiment. He wrote:

Cuba’s provision of safe harbor to Chesimard by providing political asylum to a convicted cop killer . . . is an affront to every resident of our state, our country, and in particular, the men and women of the New Jersey State Police.

On the other hand, the Obama administration has been very clear that while the U.S. will continue to push for the return of American fugitives, it won’t hamper the broadening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Whether or not Degnan will heed Christie’s advice remains to be seen. But, based on Christie’s urging, Degan has said that the Port Authority board is going to dig into the request from United and conduct an immediate review. So, don’t hop on United and book your flight to Havana yet–a decades-old fugitive hunt may hamper the introduction of these new flights.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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