Obama recommends taking Cuba off list of state sponsors of terrorism

On Tuesday, President Obama, as expected since last December’s announcement on Cuba, recommended that Cuba be removed from The U.S. State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism List.” This would leave only Sudan, Iran, and Syria on the list.

To support his recommendation, Obama cited statutory language which says that to be removed from the list, Cuba had to prove to the satisfaction of the U.S. government that it had not engaged in acts of terrorism in the last six months, and that it promises to not support “acts of international terrorism in the future.”

The president says that these two conditions were satisfied.  Actually, Cuba has never supported “acts of international terrorism,” and has always denounced actions like the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

So how did Cuba get on the list in the first place? 

It was placed on the list by the administration of Ronald Reagan, in 1982. The motives seem to have included anger at Cuba for its material and moral support for the struggle of the South African people against the fascist “apartheid” regime.  Also, Cuba was seen as helping left wing insurgents in Central America in their struggle against right wing dictatorships supported by the United States.

At that time, the Reagan Administration was itself supporting terrorism in many parts of the world:  What would become Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the terroristic dictatorships in Latin America, and others who specialized in butchering the opposition. And the United States had itself supported and funded numerous attacks against Cuba and other left wing states, leading to the loss of thousands of civilian lives.  One of the most egregious of these attacks was the bombing, by a “former” CIA agent, of a Cuban civilian airline in 1976, with the loss of 73 lives.  Another was the mining of the harbor of Corinto, Nicaragua, one of several terroristic attacks in which the World Court ruled against the United States, who simply ignored the court.

In short the placing of Cuba on the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list was an outrageous act of hypocrisy, a fraud on the U.S. and world public opinion.  If there had been any justice in these things, the United States and not Cuba would have been put on the list.  But once Cuba was put on the list, it became impossible for future administrations to even suggest it because various interconnected right wing interests: The Republicans and right wing Democrats, the Cuban exile leadership in South Florida and New Jersey and others, would surely use such a move to attack whoever did it as disloyal to the United States, soft on terrorism and so forth.  So removing Cuba from the list was the focus of a long national and international struggle.

And indeed, no sooner had Obama made his announcement than the attacks from the right and the anti-Cuba bloc began.  Presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., trotted out all the old arguments that have been long since refuted.  His Senate colleague Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chimed in as little Sir Echo. 

Cuba, on the other hand, expressed satisfaction with the decision. As the United States and Cuba have been carrying out negotiations to give practical shape to the joint declaration on Dec. 17 by President Obama of the United States and president Raul Castro of Cuba, the Cuban side has stressed that for Cuba to remain on the list was a major obstacle to progress.

For example, for Cuba to turn its diplomatic mission in Washington, now called the Interests Section, into a full fledged embassy, it would have to be able to set up bank accounts in the United States for itself and for its diplomatic personnel. This is now impossible because banks say they dare not do business with the Cubans lest the U.S. government prosecute them for trading with a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Other kinds of financial transactions between U.S. businesses and Cuba will be able to move ahead without the fear of huge fines that have often been levied by the U.S. government on businesses which trade with Cuba.

So Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s point person on relations with the United States, said,  “The government of Cuba recognizes the just decision taken by the president of the United States to remove Cuba from a list on which it never should have been included.” 

But the fight isn’t over. Now that President Obama has officially passed his recommendation to Congress, there is a 45 day waiting period for Congress to respond. The only way the Republican majorities could block the move is by passing special legislation (they don’t get an up-down vote on the recommendation itself). That the likes of Rubio and Cruz might try to do precisely that cannot be excluded.

Presidents Obama and Castro meet at the Summit of the Americas.   |   wemu.org


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.