The era of acrimonious relations between Cuba and the U.S. may soon come to a close as Cuba’s designation on the U.S. Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT) has officially been rescinded after a final decision from Secretary of State John Kerry today.
On April 14, President Barack Obama announced his plan to remove Cuba from the list after declaring that Cuba had “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Cuba’s inclusion on the SSOT list—where it was listed alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria—had been cited by Cuba as a major impediment to restoring relations.
Congress’s 45-day window to block Obama’s decision to lift the SSOT designation expired today with no override from Congress—despite the fact that Obama’s decision was initially met with mixed reactions. Cuba will also be removed from the Department of Treasury’s sanctions list, “a place reserved for nations that repeatedly provide support for international acts of premeditated, politically motivated violence against non-combatants,” according to the Bradenton Herald.
New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, who visited the island yesterday as part of a Democratic congressional delegation to Cuba, said the move will facilitate further Cuba-U.S. rapprochement. “I think it will be a matter of weeks when we have restored diplomatic relations. This will advance mending of relations, and all other outstanding issues will likely be resolved in a timely manner,” he said.
Cuba was put on the SSOT list in 1982 for allegedly supporting armed left-wing groups in Latin America, such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The historic thawing of relations between Havana and Washington began December 17 last year, when Obama declared his intention to revive diplomatic relations with Cuba. According to U.S. and Cuban officials, both nations have been working closely to settle remaining issues—including the half-century old U.S. trade embargo—to pave the way for embassies to be re-opened and ambassadors to be exchanged for the first time since the U.S. formally broke ties in January 1961.
Udall stated that there is bipartisan support for eliminating some parts of the embargo. Udall’s delegation, which included Connecticut Rep. John Larson, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, and Minnesota Senator Al Franken, met with Cuban government representatives and small business owners. All four are advocates of removing the trade embargo. Obama lifted some restrictions and challenged Congress to abolish the embargo completely in his State of the Union Address in January.
“I think that a majority of the American people and a majority of the Congress would be for lifting the embargo,” Franken said. “But there is work to be done.”