updated 5/11/2005 10:51:48 AM ET 2005-05-11T14:51:48

President Fidel Castro has rejected calls to hand over a fugitive that U.S. officials put on a terrorism list this month, saying she is an innocent victim of racial persecution.

“They wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie,” Castro said in a television address Tuesday night.

While Castro did not identify the woman by name, he was clearly alluding to Assata Shakur — the former Joanne Chesimard — who was put on a U.S. government terrorist watch list on May 2. On the same day, New Jersey officials announced a $1 million reward for her capture.

Castro’s remarks were his first comment on the new U.S. actions.

A member of the Black Liberation Army, Shakur, 57, was convicted in 1973 of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster as he lay on the ground. She escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba.

Castro referred to her as a victim of “the fierce repression against the Black movement in the United States” and said she had been “a true political prisoner.”

“They have always been hunting her, searching for her because of the fact that there was an accident in which a policeman died,” Castro said, reflecting Shakur’s assertion that she did not shoot the officer.

Diversion tactic?
Castro said the appeal for her expulsion had been raised with him several years ago by a woman who was both “a friend of Cuba” and a friend of former President Bill Clinton.

“I transmitted my opinion to the president of the United States,” he said, though he did not specify who raised the issue nor when she visited.

He made clear the case involved New Jersey, saying that it involved the same state as that of former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli.

Castro suggested that the action was meant to divert attention from Cuba’s demand that U.S. officials arrest Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted in Venezuela on charges of involvement in blowing up a civilian Cuban jetliner in 1976, killing 73 people.

The Cuban leader called for a massive rally on May 17 in front of the U.S. Interests Section, or diplomatic mission, to demand the arrest of Posada.

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