Two influential U.S. senators have introduced legislation to force Cuba to remove more than 70 U.S. criminals it has long harbored, including Victor M. Gerena, the insider for the violent Puerto Rican nationalists who stole $7 million in an armored car depot in West Hartford decades ago. in what was then the largest cash heist in US history.
The bipartisan bill, written by Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would compel the State Department to pressure Cuba to comply with a century-old extradition treaty. As leverage, he threatens, among other things, to withhold money for Caribbean narcotics control programs for the benefit of Cuba.
The bill would also require the State Department to report on its progress and produce a list of violent fugitives believed to be living under government protection in Cuba, something the US government has refused to do for two decades.
Past moves to pressure Cuba to hand over wanted Americans have failed to produce high-level fugitives. As chairman and second-ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez and Rubio have an influence on the State Department that has not been seen in previous measures.
Gerena, who grew up in Hartford and was a scholar and top athlete at Buckley High School, has been one of the most high-profile criminals living in Cuba since pulling off the daring robbery of a closed Wells Fargo depot. since at West Hartford in September 1982. .
Gerena pointed a gun at two colleagues, tied them up and injected them with a sedative. He stuffed $7 million in cash — whatever would fit — into a battered green Buick he rented from Ugly Duckling Car Rental in West Hartford and disappeared.
It was later learned that he had been recruited by Los Machateros, a violent branch of the Puerto Rican independence movement funded by Cuba and led by a former Cuban intelligence officer. Cuba then supported the so-called national liberation movements in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Los Macheteros, which stands for Machete Wielders or Cane Cutters, packed Gerena and the money behind false walls in an RV and drove him to Mexico City, where he was disguised, given forged IDs and flew with the money to Havana. The government of Cuba kept most of the money, according to various intelligence sources.
The Machateros planned to use their share of the money, over $2 million, in an armed struggle for Puerto Rican independence.
The proposed legislation is named after New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and Wall Street trader Frank Connor and is the result of years of lobbying Congress by Connor’s son Joseph.
Foerster was shot in 1973 by Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices. Chesimard and the others opened fire on two soldiers—and eventually executed Foerster within range of the point bank—during a routine traffic check. She was convicted of murder in 1977 and two years later escaped from a New Jersey prison and reached Cuba.
Connor was one of those who died in a terrorist attack at historic Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan in January 1975. Police suspect the bomb maker was William “Guillermo” Morales, a member of the National Liberation Armed Forces, a violent Puerto Rican nationalist group associated with Los Macheteros. Morales is also suspected of bombing the Mobil Oil building in New York in 1977 and of several other attacks.
Morales was partially blinded and lost parts of his hands and ears when one of these bombs exploded prematurely in 1978. He fled to Mexico and later reached Cuba. During a series of interviews with the Current in Havana 20 years ago. Morales said he was living under the protection of the Cuban government and would not discuss other fugitives, including Gerena.
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Joseph Conner said Wednesday he has been pressing the United States to seek the return of fugitives for decades
“I started writing letters in 1990,” he said. “This is named after my father and that makes it very personal.”
Together, Los Macheteros and the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by the Spanish acronym FALN, are believed to be responsible for 130 bombings, several murders and a dozen robberies.
Rubio said the United States should suspend any sanctions relief against Cuba until the fugitives are returned.
“The communist regime in Cuba provided a safe haven for Joanne Chesimard, Guillermo Morales, Charlie Hill, Victor Manuel Gerena and other criminals responsible for planning and perpetrating violent crimes against Americans,” he said. declared. “This bill takes an important step by requiring the Secretary of State and Attorney General to use diplomatic tools to extradite all fugitives residing in Cuba to face trial in the United States. Until the regime complies with US law and hands over these fugitives to face trial in US courts, it should receive absolutely no taxpayer assistance or sanctions relief.
In the late 1990s, the FBI said there were more than 90 fugitive Americans harbored by Cuba, according to a list obtained by the Courant. The people on the list ranged from a wanted financier to hijackers, activists and violent nationalists. The government has since refused requests for an updated list.
In 1997, 12 jailed Puerto Rican nationalists, including the mastermind convicted of the Wells Fargo robbery, accepted an offer of clemency from then-President William Clinton. The offer was widely seen as an attempt by Hillary Clinton to win the support of New York’s large Puerto Rican population in her bid for the U.S. Senate.