Ending of anti-Cuba policies moves forward slowly

This week, a Cuban delegation arrived in Washington D.C. to continue discussions with the U.S. State Department on the proposals for regularizing relations between the two countries.  At the same time a number of bills have been presented in the Senate and House of Representatives for the purpose of eliminating the legal structure of the 55 year U.S. trade blockade and prohibitions of travel to Cuba.

The first task, as explained by the head of Cuba’s delegation, Josefina Vidal, who is in charge of U.S. affairs in the Cuban foreign ministry, is to get Cuba removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This should be simple because everybody but the most extreme Cuba-haters agrees that Cuba is not, indeed, a state sponsor of terrorism.

Cuba, in fact, deplores all terrorist acts, whether carried out by ISIS in the Middle East or anybody else. Cuba itself has been the victim of numerous terrorist attacks, many of which have been launched against the island from the territory of the United States or allied countries.  Both Cuba and Venezuela have demanded the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, a former Central Intelligence Agent who is accused of blowing up a Cuban civilian airliner in mid-airliner in 1976, with the loss of 73 lives of passengers and crew.  In the United States, Posada was only prosecuted for immigration violations and acquitted.  He is now lionized in right wing Cuban exile circles in Miami.

President Obama, in his speech on Dec. 17 of last year, called on Secretary of State John Kerry to review the listing of Cuba as a terrorism sponsor.  The reasons given in the recent past for maintaining Cuba on that list have been paper thin:  Cuba allows the existence of the Basque separatist organization ETA to function, but that was arranged at the request of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, and the Basque campaigns of armed action are ending.

Also, Cuba allows an office of Colombia’s Armed Forces of the Colombian Revolution-People’s Army to exist in Havana, but this is at the behest of the Colombian government. Cuba and Norway are cosponsors of peace talks between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government of President Manuel Santos, which are going so well that major breakthroughs in ending the Colombian civil war seem imminent.  Secretary of State Kerry has named veteran U.S. diplomat Bernard Anderson as a special representative to the Colombia peace talks, which was applauded not only by the Colombian government but by the FARC-EP as well. 

The anti-Castro diehards cling to the idea of blocking the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List by harping on the theme of Assata Shakur. Politicians such as Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtenin, R-Fla., have denounced Cuba for refusing to extradite Shakur and others who, years ago, requested and got political Asylum in Cuba. However, the Obama administration does not seem to be swayed. At any rate, Cuba has made clear that it will not extradite them.

So the removal of Cuba from the list seems probable. The Cubans, however, ask for quick action. Vidal pointed out that it would be strange for Cuba and the United States to negotiate the restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana while the former accuses the latter of being a terrorist sponsor. 

There are practical implications: For many months, the Cuban diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations in New York have had to go without U.S. bank accounts because U.S. banks are afraid that Cuba’s presence on the list would entail major financial risks for any U.S. or foreign bank that did business with the socialist nation.  Also, Cuba is urging the Obama administration to finalize the process in time for the 15th Summit of the Americas which will take place on Apr. 10-12 in Panama. U.S. officials say that this will not be on the agenda for the meeting in Washington.

At least 10 bills have been introduced into the Senate and House of Representatives for the purpose eliminating the U.S. trade and travel blockade against Cuba. Details can be found at the website of the U.S. Congress. They include several bills to end the travel ban (S 299 and HR 664) and to allow travelers to Cuba to spend money there for normal travel-related expenses (HR 664). Several would end the trade blockade completely ( HR 274, HR 403, S 491) or partially (HR 735, HR 635). HR 570, would cut off funding for the scandal ridden Radio and TV Marti, broadcasters of U.S. propaganda to Cuba. It is likely that more bills will be introduced. 

People who want to see a change in U.S.-Cuba policy should study the details of these bills and check if their own senators and their House member are listed as co-sponsors.  If so, they should contact them to thank them and to urge them to push the bill until it is passed and signed by President Obama. If not, they should urge them to sign on as cosponsors and work for the bill’s passage. Contact information can also be found on the Congressional website.

Both Democrats and Republicans should be contacted. Republicans may be convinced to support ending the blockade because of pressure from agricultural and other industries who want normal trade with Cuba.

Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.