Cuba Removed From List Of State Sponsors Of Terrorism
Another step forward toward ending a U.S. policy regarding Cuba that was outdated twenty years ago.
In a move that had been anticipated for some time now, the U.S. State Department announced today that Cuba has been removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday removed Cubafrom a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a crucial step in normalizing ties between Washington and Havana and the latest progress in President Obama’s push to thaw relations between the United States and the island nation.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry rescinded Cuba’s designation as a terrorism sponsor at the end of a 45-day congressional notification period, which began on April 14 when Mr. Obama announced his intention to remove Cuba from the list.
The move “reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission,” Jeff Rathke, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions,” Mr. Rathke said, “these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”
The action comes amid signs of difficulty in the negotiations between American and Cuban officials to bring about the historic reopening Mr. Obama announced in December. Despite widespread optimism, officials failed last week to reach an accord on re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies.
Still, Cuba’s removal from the list – now confined to Iran, Sudan and Syria – is an important step in Mr. Obama’s effort to move past the Cold War-era hostility that long marked the relationship between the United States and Cuba. The president met with President Raúl Castro of Cuba last month in Panama at the Summit of the Americas in the first such encounter in a half-century.
Cubans saw their nation’s designation as a sponsor of terrorism, in effect since 1982 when their government was backing leftist insurgencies, as a blemish on their image and a practical hindrance that had hampered their ability to gain access to American banks.
Mr. Obama asked the State Department to review Cuba’s designation late last year, when he and Mr. Castro announced they would work to re-establish ties. A State Department review concluded last month that Cuba no longer deserved to be on the list. It said that the nation had not sponsored international terrorism recently and that it had promised not to do so.
Cuban-Americans in Congress who initially vowed to try and block the change in designation quickly said they had concluded they had no legal means of doing so, and made no attempts to oppose it.
Even with the issue of the terrorism list now resolved, American and Cuban officials face challenges in pressing forward with the rapprochement. Talks last week, the fourth round since the normalization process was announced, broke off without resolution of a checklist of issues standing in the way of converting the diplomatic outposts known as “interests sections” into full-fledged embassies.
United States negotiators want assurances from the Cubans that American diplomats at a new embassy in Havana would be able to move freely around the country and speak with whomever they wished, including opponents of the government. Cuban officials, who have frequently charged that the United States was working to undermine the government by helping dissidents, have resisted the request.
Americans have also sought guarantees that Cubans visiting an American embassy in Havana would not be harassed by the police.
Given the numerous issues that exist between the United States and Cuba, which include not only those noted above, but also issues such as the fate of Americans who are accused of, or have been convicted of crimes that have taken refuge in Cuba. One of the most prominent people fitting that description is Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of first degree murder in the death of a New Jersey State Trooper in 1973 only to flee to Cuba in the early 1980s after having escaped from prison in 1979. Chesimard is now the only woman to be listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. When the President’s opening to Cuba was first announced, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and other politicians called on the Obama Administration to demand the return of Chesimard from her safe haven in Havana as part of the negotiations. Initially, the Cuban Government said that this would not happen but there have been subsequent indications that the return of Chesimard and other fugitive American criminals is a possibility depending on how the negotiations proceed. Other issues, of course, include the state of human rights inside Cuba itself and the claims that people who left after Castro’s revolution may have to property in Cuba. None of these are easy issues, so it’s not surprising that it’s taking time for them to be resolved. At the same time, though, CNN quoted a Cuban official in a report last week who seemed to indicate that the parties were not as far apart on the issues necessary to reach an agreement on embassies as some reports have indicated. That agreement, of course, would just be the beginning of what would be a long process of repairing a relationship that has been essentially non-existent for the past fifty-five years.
As for this decision itself, as I said when the possibility of this happening was discussed last month, it seems fairly clear that there is no good reason to keep Cuba on this list at this point in time. There’s simply no evidence that Cuba supports any of the same kind of insurgent movements it was supporting when it was placed on the list in the early 80s, and certainly no evidence that it is supporting what we would call terrorism in the modern era. Indeed, given Cuba’s economic condition at this point it’s somewhat laughable to believe that they would even have the resources to do such a thing. To no small degree, the fact that Cuba was even put on the list to begin with was more a reflection of U.S. policy toward the Castro regime since the 1960s than it was a statement of how much of a real threat to the United States the country was even at that point in time. Whatever the justification was at that point, though, it’s clear that there was no rational reason to continue the designation at that point. Of course, that’s been true of our approach to Cuba for some time now, which is why President Obama’s decision to bring an end to that outdated policy was the the right thing to do. It will be some time before relations between the United States and Cuba are “normal,” and it will likely take the passing from power of the Castro brothers for real progress to be made, but these are good first steps toward ending a policy that was outdated twenty years ago.