Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Why Cuba Remains a State Sponsor of Terrorism

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For more than a decade, Cuba’s Castro brothers (Fidel and Raúl) and their U.S. advocates have lobbied Congress to lift U.S. trade sanctions. Finally recognizing that Congress isn’t likely to do so, the focus of the Castro lobby has now shifted to getting Cuba removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

There are two ways Cuba, which has been listed since 1982, could be removed from the list:

The first is for President Obama to certify to Congress that there has been a fundamental change in Cuba’s leadership and policies and that it disavows support of international terrorism now and for the future. No serious observer of Cuba will argue there has been any “fundamental change” in the Castro dictatorship, which has ruled Cuba with an iron-fist for 54 years.

The second is for the president to vouch to Congress that Cuba hasn’t provided any support to international terrorism in the preceding six months and has provided “assurances” to the United States that it won’t in the future. This was the vehicle used by the Bush Administration in 2008 to mistakenly remove North Korea from the list. As has now been proven with the Kim family, to rely on assurances of better behavior from the Castro brothers would be to commit foreign-policy malpractice. The Castro dictatorship brutally continues its repression of the Cuban people, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the world, and since December 2009 has held American aid worker Alan P. Gross for the crime of helping members of Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. Moreover, the Castro government has made it clear that Gross will stay in its prisons until the United States releases five convicted Cuban spies—an act of political coercion (“terrorism” as defined under U.S. law).The most recent State Department Country Report on Terrorism lays out the rationale for listing Cuba:

“Current and former members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) continue to reside in Cuba…Press reporting indicated that the Cuban government provided medical care and political assistance to the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia].”

While the report notes there is no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for either ETA or the FARC, the United States designates both as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

The Castro lobbyists point to peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC going on in Havana. That’s an argument that puts the cart in front of the horse. To remove Cuba from the terrorist sponsor list, the United States would first have to rescind its designation of ETA and the FARC as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Yet Gen. John F. Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), specifically singles out FARC as the region’s oldest, largest, most capable, and best-equipped insurgency Although weakened, the FARC continues to confront the Colombian state by employing improvised explosive devices and attacking energy infrastructure and oil pipelines.

The report also states that the Cuban government continued to permit fugitives wanted in the United States to reside in Cuba and also provided support such as housing, food ration books and medical care for these individuals.

That hasn’t changed either. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates Cuba now provides safe harbor for more than 70 fugitives from American justice who have been convicted or charged with such crimes as kidnapping, hijacking and murder, including the killing of police officers in New Jersey and New Mexico.

The United States also has outstanding indictments against Cuban Air Force pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez and Gen. Rubén Martínez Puente, the head of the Cuban Air Force who ordered two American civilian aircraft shot down over international waters in the Florida Straits in 1996. That act of terrorism killed four young men, three of them U.S. citizens, for whom justice has yet to be served.

Lastly, the Financial Action Task Force has identified Cuba as having deficiencies in combating money laundering and terrorism financing. In other words, there has been no discernible effort to criminalize money laundering or to establish procedures to identify and freeze the assets of terrorists.

Moreover, there are new justifications for listing Cuba. Thousands of Cuban soldiers and intelligence officials are stationed in Venezuela. Their presence and control over the highest levels of Venezuela’s military and police not only threatens to subvert democracy in that South American nation, but allows them to be used as proxies for narcotic traffickers and arms dealers supplying extremist organizations such as Hezbollah and Iran’s al-Quds.

Cuba’s close political ties with Iran and Syria and its history of sharing intelligence with rogue regimes continue to raise serious concerns and, according to former U.S. intelligence officials, pose a risk to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East.

To remove Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list based on mere hopes of bettering relations would be a foreign-policy malpractice—a lesson the U.S. learned from North Korea’s de-listing in 2008. Cuba must earn its removal from this list. Clearly it hasn’t done so, and as long as the Castro brothers retain their absolute control over the island, Cuba isn’t likely to do so.

Tags: Cuba, Cuba-U.S. relations
Like what you've read? Subscribe to AQ for more.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Sign up for our free newsletter