US and Cuba Relations

A U.S. citizen wanted for firearms violations was extradited back to the United States on Tuesday from Cuba. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, the historic prisoner transfer is the first extradition to take place since the United States and Cuba restored their diplomatic relations earlier this year.

Indiana Man Fled to Cuba to Escape Prosecution

The 38-year-old man at the center of the extradition is Shawn Wegmann from Indiana. Police allege that Wegmann removed his electronic monitoring bracelet last October and tried to take a stolen 13-foot motorboat to Cuba. The boat was stolen from a marina in Florida.

However, Wegmann did not get as far as he planned. Cuban authorities captured him and notified the U.S. government. U.S. Marshals said that they expect the man will be sent to Iowa to face one count of firearm possession by a felon, and three counts of stolen firearm possession.

Cuba May Not Be a Safe Haven for Criminals Anymore

Wegmann is not very different from many Americans who have gone to Cuba in decades past in search of protection from prosecution in the United States. While this may have been an option for fugitives then, improved diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba mean that accused criminals seeking refuge in either country could be more likely face extradition back to their country of origin to face criminal charges. U.S. authorities hope that the level of cooperation exhibited by Cuba in Wegmann's case will increase as relations between the former Cold War adversaries continue to normalize.

No Extradition Treaty Exists Between U.S. and Cuba

Although Cuba extradited Wegmann in this case, there is still no extradition treaty in place between the United States and Cuba. In December 2014, before restored diplomacy took root, Cuba affirmed its right to decide whether it will extradite alleged criminals to U.S. soil by refusing to send a woman accused of shooting and killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 back to the United States.

According to Cuba's head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal, "Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted."