U.S. officials: Cuba will be kept on list of nations that sponsor terrorism

The U.S. government has no plans to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, U.S. government officials said Wednesday.

Opponents of U.S. sanctions on the island’s communist government have been lobbying hard for months to remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism as a gesture toward improved bilateral relations.

The Boston Globe reported in February that U.S. diplomats had concluded Cuba should be taken off the list. Another news report a month later said Cuba’s removal might be announced when the Country Report on Terrorism, also managed by the State Department, is issued.

The list of state sponsors was created in 1979 and currently includes only Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan. The Country Report is a totally separate, annual and country-by-country review of terror activities around the globe, including the four nations on the state sponsors list.

There are no current efforts or plans to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors, said knowledgeable U.S. government officials who asked for anonymity in order to speak frankly and in detail about the often confusing issue.

Inclusion on the list blocks a nation’s access to World Bank and other financing, and puts an international magnifying glass on all its international banking transactions.

The next version of the Country Report, expected to be made public in coming weeks, will certainly report that Cuba remains on the state sponsors’ list, the officials told El Nuevo Herald.

But that does not rule out the possibility that at any time in the future the U.S. government will decide that Cuba should be removed from the state sponsors list, the officials added.

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) study dated April 5 reported that technically either the U.S. president or Congress can remove a country from the list, although it would be more likely for the president to do so in either of two ways.

The president can send Congress a report “certifying that there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government and that the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism and is providing assurances that it will not support such acts in the future,” the study noted.

Or the president can send Congress a report, at least 45 days in advance of the removal, “certifying that the government has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months, and has provided assurances that it will not support such acts in the future.”

The State Department is required to publish the annual Country Report at the end of each April, but it regularly misses the deadline. Last year, the report was made public in July.

The newspaper and blog The Hill in Washington D.C. quoted a State Department spokesperson late Tuesday as saying that the Country Report will be made public in the latter half of May and will note that Cuba remains on the state sponsor list.

“We don’t use this report to announce designations” to the state sponsor list, the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Cuba has been on the state sponsors list since 1982. Havana also is on a separate U.S. government list, with Venezuela and others, of countries that are not “cooperating fully with United States antiterrorism efforts.”

The Country Report in 2012 alleged Havana provides safe haven to U.S. fugitives and members of the Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) in Spain and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Washington considers both as terrorist groups.

Cuba claims the ETA members are on the island with the Spanish government’s approval, but some are wanted in Madrid. Havana is currently playing host to peace talks between FARC guerrilla leaders and the Colombian government.

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart recently argued that the shootdown by Cuban MiGs of two civilian Brothers to the Rescue airplanes in 1996, killing all four Miami men abroad, amounted to an act of terrorism.

Ros-Lehtinen said Wednesday that the U.S. government’s decision to keep Cuba on the state sponsors list “reaffirms that the Castro regime is, and has always been, a supporter and facilitator of terrorism.”

Supporters of removing Cuba from the list argue that the Castro government has not supported terrorism for years and note that North Korea and Moammar Qadhafi’s Libya were removed from the list in recent years.

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