By Edmund H. Mahony, Hartford Courant
There is probably no one with a greater interest than Victor M. Gerena in the talks underway between the U.S. and Cuba about re-establishing diplomatic relations.
In 1983, he and other members of a group of Puerto Rican nationalists — a group armed, advised and financed by the Cuban government — stole $7 million from a West Hartford armored car depot in what was then the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history.
The Cubans sneaked Gerena into Mexico City. They stashed him in a safe house, lightened the color of his hair and gave him a phony diplomatic identity. Eventually, they put him and much of the money on a plane to Havana, where Gerena disappeared into the shadowy community of murderers, bombers, robbers and hijackers Cuba has sheltered from prosecution in the U.S and other countries since the 1960s.
For decades, the U.S. fugitives hiding in Cuba have been of little interest to anyone beyond a handful of journalists, law enforcement agencies and the families of their victims. But as President Obama presses an effort to reopen embassies and lift credit and trade restrictions, the fugitives have been discovered by critics and are emerging as a potential impediment to normalization.
Last week, Obama said he intends to remove Cuba from the government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, effectively opening Havana to commercial lenders. Cuba has been on the list for 30 years, with Iran, Syria and Sudan. The last time the state department reviewed the list, in 2013, it decided against Cuba’s removal because of its continued willingness to provide safe haven to fugitives wanted on terror charges.
Congress has 45 days to challenge the decision to remove Cuba from the list and opponents were lining up last week within Congress and among law enforcement agencies, Cuban exiles and families of victims killed by fugitives who have lived comfortably in Cuba for decades
“In the midst of our global war on terrorism, simply put, how can Obama and this administration remove a state that sponsors terrorists from the State Sponsor of Terror list?” said Joseph Connor, whose father died in a 1975 bomb attack at Fraunces Tavern in New York by a Puerto Rican nationalist group supported by Cuba. “This action shows Obama’s utter disregard for Americans like my father, who was murdered by Castro’s clients and it tells the world we condone terrorism.”
Others want return of the fugitives to be a condition of normalization or, at a minimum, that the fugitives be used to leverage other concessions.
Article continues here: Terrorist Victor Gerena