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Assemblyman Danielsen Part Of Unofficial State Delegation Heading To Cuba

State Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17) if part of an unofficial delegation visiting Cuba for three days. (File photo.)


State Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17) is one of three state legislators spending the weekend in Cuba, at the invitation of the Cuban government.

Danielsen is joined on the trip by state Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and state Senator Loretta Weinberg, both (D-37). Also on the trip is Somerset County Democratic Party chair Peg Schaeffer and former state Assemblyman Joe Roberts.

During the trip, which lasts from Jan. 27 through Jan. 29, the group will attend the unveiling of a statue of Cuban hero José Martí, meet with Jewish groups, meet with members of the Cuban National Assembly and visit a primary school, Danielsen said.

The trip is not sanctioned by the state, and each attendee is paying their own way.

Danielsen said he jumped at the chance to volunteer to take the trip.

“It’s very unique, it’s a beautiful country,” he said. “I think this is the right step in our relationship with Cuba. It’s shameful, just in general, that we are not close partners with Cuba. It’s shameful where the relationship between Cuba and America has gone over the last 95 years.”

“I’m pro-normalcy,” Danielsen said. “I think both governments need to make changes. I agree with Pres. Obama, 60 years of ignoring each other and embargo has accomplished nothing, except for the starvation and dereliction of the people.”

Danielsen said that while he favors normalizing relations with Cuba, that comes with a caveat.

“Cuba’s  number one agenda is lifting the embargo,” he said. “As an American, I’m also encouraging to have no embargo, but as an American, they must cough up Joanne Chesimard. They cannot be a safe haven for our murderers.”

Chesimard, now known as Assata Shakur, has been harbored by Cuba since 1979, when she escaped a New Jersey prison while serving a life term in connection with the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper.

“Lifting in the embargo would be very difficult without that woman in handcuffs on American soil,” Danielsen said.

Danielsen said he’s encouraged by the presence of a synagogue in Havana.

“This might be a small step, but as the first step it’s very significant,” he said. “The Cuban government wants to be recognized for this step, and I’m more than willing to recognize it. I want to encourage the Cuban government to continue in that direction, an allowance and tolerance for religious freedom. Cuba was a sanctuary for many Jewish people in 1939.”

“Aside from Joanne Chesimard, America can’t be so heavy handed and callous, because the Cuban government may be recalcitrant, but there’s millions of God-loving Cubans who want to work, have families, have a good life, worship, and want to be friends and yet they can’t have a good home over their heads,” he said. “You can’t forget about the millions of people who just want to work, come home to their family, sing and dance, live the normal lives that we do. You can’t ever lose sight of that.”

“Unfortunately, the two governments haven’t been able to meet, and who’s hurting?” he said. “The governments aren’t the ones hurting. Governments never hurt, it’s always only the people. You can’t say you’re punishing the government when in fact you’re only punishing the people.”

 

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