President Obama’s actions to remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of terrorist states is stripping the United States of its leverage to achieve economic and political reform in Cuba.
Cuba’s removal from the list has been the Castro brothers’ No. 1 goal, facilitating Cuba’s access to international financial institutions and trade credits. To remove the designation is to ignore their engagement with terrorist organizations and their provision of safe haven to convicted felons and fugitive terrorists.
During the Obama administration, the same State Department that just recommended to the president to remove Cuba from the list had conducted five annual reviews concluding that Havana’s ties to international terrorism were still relevant. The U.S. Congress might want to ask Secretary of State John Kerry what has changed since April 2014 when the the department made its last such determination.
Kerry’s supporting memorandum to Congress takes note of the “fugitive issue” but proposes no solution, and parts of it read as if they were written by a pro-Cuban government advocate. It is silent about Cuba’s aggressive history and makes no mention of the convictions of the Cuban spies who fed information to Raúl Castro, then defense minister and now president of Cuba, that led to the Cuban air force MiG attack on two civilian American planes flying over international waters in the Florida Straits, killing four men.
It also makes no mention of the evidence federal prosecutors presented during the spies’ trial based on American intercepts of Havana’s instructions requesting suitable places for landing of Cuban personnel and weapons in South Florida. And it leaves out Fidel Castro’s not-so-veiled 1976 threat: “The fact that the Cuban Revolution has never used terrorism does not mean that we will not do so. That’s a warning.”
Within the last six months, Colombia’s navy has intercepted the Chinese freighter, Da Dan Xia near the Port of Cartagena. It was carrying “100 tons of gunpowder, almost 3 million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells” bound for Barranquilla but then on to Havana. The Kerry memo pointedly states, “The government of Cuba has been particularly helpful in facilitating the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC and, in addition, the ELN.” So, where were those munitions to be unloaded?
On this issue, as on everything else, some will blame the embargo for Cuba’s weapons trade with China and North Korea. But Cuba can buy weapons in Europe and elsewhere, and the real question is: Why go through all the trouble of smuggling weapons under foodstuffs and risking discovery and international condemnation? There is also some confusion about the impact of removing Cuba from the list on Havana’s access to international banking institutions. Removing Cuba from the list has the propaganda value for the regime and ethical considerations for Obama.
It is currently impossible for the Congress to reverse Obama’s decision. However, what Havana really wants is to gain full access (loans) to international financial institutions. But such access will remain barred by the a 1996 U.S. law. While the president has primacy in foreign affairs, it is too early to say that Congress will not reassert its legitimate role on foreign policy in regard to the president’s Cuba policy.
Also swept under the State Department’s carpet, were:
▪ The Spanish government’s request to Cuba to return several Basque terrorists of the ETA terrorist movement currently being given “safe harbor” in Cuba.
▪ Cuba’s protection of Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army, convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper. She escaped from prison and made her way to Cuba, where Fidel Castro described her as an American “revolutionary” and gave her asylum. The FBI lists her as one of its “10 most wanted” terrorists.
The most important duty of an American president is to protect American lives. Could anyone doubt that the his decision on this issue was celebrated by ISIS, ETA, al Qaida and terrorists plotting to kill Americans around the world?
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.