Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuba Sees an Opening

    Cuba Sees an Opening

    By Mauricio Claver-Carone Tuesday, April 2, 2013

    The State Department is reportedly considering dropping Cuba's

    designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Doing so would hand Havana

    a major – and unmerited – diplomatic victory.

    Cuba's Castro brothers have spent billions of dollars over the last

    decade seducing U.S. farm bureaus and agri-business to lobby Congress to

    support lifting sanctions on Cuba. Recently recognizing that Congress is

    unlikely to support unconditional changes, and perceiving a possible

    opening with the new Secretary of State John Kerry, Castro lobbyists

    have shifted their focus to the Obama administration and a related goal:

    the removal of Cuba from the State Department's list of state sponsors

    of terrorism.

    Kerry supported unilaterally easing sanctions on Cuba during his Senate

    career, and speculation that the State Department is considering

    removing Cuba from the state sponsor list – which also includes Iran,

    Sudan, and Syria – has been spurred by news reports citing contradictory

    remarks from anonymous administration sources. Some high-level diplomats

    have suggested Cuba be dropped from the list, according to the Boston

    Globe. But the State Department's spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified

    in late February that it had "no current plans" to change Cuba's

    designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. However, that has not

    slowed efforts by those seeking rapprochement with the Castro regime, as

    a final decision will not be officially revealed until April 30.

    Cuba has been on the state sponsors of terrorism list since 1982 due to

    its hostile acts and support of armed insurgency groups. While being on

    the list of terrorist sponsors imposes sanctions such as prohibiting the

    United States from selling arms or providing economic assistance,

    removing Cuba from that list would have little effect on these

    sanctions, as these were separately codified in 1996. However, it would

    certainly hand the Castro brothers a major – and unmerited – diplomatic

    victory. The Castros have long protested and sought to escape the

    ostracism associated with the terrorism listing, while refusing to

    modify the egregious behavior that earned them the designation. They are

    also hoping the change could improve their standing among otherwise

    reluctant members of Congress and lead to an unconditional lifting of

    sanctions in the near future.

    Pursuant to the statutory criteria stipulated under Section 6(j) of the

    Export Administration Act (as currently re-authorized under the

    International Emergency Economic Powers Act), Cuba can only be removed

    from the state sponsors of terrorism list in two ways:

    Option one is to have the U.S. president submit a report to Congress

    certifying that there has been a fundamental change in the leadership

    and policies of Cuba's government, that Cuba no longer supports acts of

    international terrorism, and that Cuba has provided "assurances" that it

    will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

    "The Castros have long protested and sought to escape the ostracism

    associated with the terrorism listing, while refusing to modify the

    egregious behavior that earned them the designation."

    It would be disingenuous for anyone to argue that there has been a

    "fundamental change" when the Castros have ruled Cuba with an iron fist

    for 54 years. Option one does not pass the laugh test.

    Option two is to have the president decide to terminate the listing and

    submit, at least 45 days before doing so, a report to Congress that the

    Cuban government has not provided any support for international

    terrorism during the preceding six months and has made assurances to the

    United States that it will not support terrorist acts in the future.

    It would be an insult to the American people if Cuba were to be removed

    from the list of state sponsors of terrorism based solely on assurances

    of change by a dictatorship that brutally represses its population,

    defies the rule of law, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the

    world with provocative anti-democratic rhetoric, and is holding in its

    prisons an American aid worker, Alan P. Gross. Arrested in December

    2009, Gross's "crime" was helping members of Cuba's Jewish community

    connect to the Internet.

    The last time the United States relied on a dictator's "assurances" to

    justify removing a country from the sponsors list was in 2008, when

    President George W. Bush accepted the assurances of the Kim family that

    North Korea would not provide support for or engage in international

    terrorism. That obviously has not worked out well.

    The Castro brothers' lack of credibility alone is legally sufficient to

    prohibit changing Cuba's designation. Cuba should also be disqualified

    because it continues to promote and support international terrorism. The

    State Department's 2011 Country Reports on Terrorism lays out a

    three-point rationale for Cuba's designation as a sponsor of terrorism:

    First, "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. There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons

    or paramilitary training for either ETA or the FARC."

    "Cuba's close political ties with other state sponsors of

    terrorism, particularly Iran and Syria, and its history of sharing

    intelligence with rogue regimes, are of serious concern."

    The United States designates ETA and the FARC as foreign terrorist

    organizations and Cuba continues to provide support for both groups. The

    favorite new argument of those seeking Cuba's removal from the list is

    to note that peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the

    FARC are taking place in Havana. But the United States would need to

    rescind its designation of ETA and the FARC as foreign terrorist

    organizations before it could remove Cuba from the terrorism sponsor

    list. More importantly, there is no peace agreement or peace in Colombia

    and ETA continues to threaten Spain.

    Testifying on Colombia before the House Armed Services Committee,

    General John F. Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command, provided some


    Terrorist groups represent a persistent challenge that has plagued the

    region for decades. The FARC is the region's oldest, largest, most

    capable, and best equipped insurgency. The government of Colombia is

    currently in peace negotiations with the FARC, but the fight is far from

    over and a successful peace accord is not guaranteed. Although weakened,

    the FARC continues to confront the Colombian state by employing

    improvised explosive devices and attacking energy infrastructure and oil


    Second, the State Department country report says 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 has not changed either. The FBI estimates that Cuba has provided

    safe harbor to more than 70 fugitives from U.S. justice who live on the

    island under the protection of the Castro regime. Some of these

    fugitives are charged with or have been convicted of murder, kidnapping,

    and hijacking, and they include notorious killers of police officers in

    New Jersey and New Mexico.

    Warranting special mention are the outstanding U.S. indictments against

    Cuban Air Force pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco

    Pérez-Pérez and General Rubén Martínez Puente, the head of the Cuban Air

    Force, who in 1996 ordered the pilots to shoot down two civilian

    American aircraft over international waters in the Florida Straits. That

    act of terrorism killed four men, three of them American citizens.

    "The last time the United States relied on a dictator's

    'assurances' to justify removing a country from the state sponsor of

    terrorism list was in 2008 with North Korea."

    Third, the State Department report says that the Financial Action Task

    Force has identified Cuba as having deficiencies in combatting money

    laundering and terrorism financing. In February, the Castro regime made

    "a high-level political commitment" to work with the FATF to address

    money laundering and the flow of money through Cuba to terrorists. There

    has been no discernible effort since to criminalize money laundering or

    to establish procedures to identify and freeze the assets of terrorists.

    The State Department's previous rationale for continuing to list Cuba as

    a state sponsor of terrorism stands and now new justifications can be added:

    Terrorism is defined in U.S. law as "the unlawful use of force and

    violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a

    government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in

    furtherance of political or social objectives." The arrest and arbitrary

    imprisonment of Alan P. Gross for actions internationally protected

    under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which

    Cuba is a signatory, is an act of terrorism. Moreover, the Castro regime

    has now made it clear that Gross will be held hostage until the United

    States releases five Cuban spies convicted in U.S. federal courts.

    In addition, thousands of Cuban soldiers and intelligence officials are

    stationed in Venezuela. Cuba's presence and control over the highest

    levels of Venezuela's military, police, and intelligence services not

    only threatens to subvert democracy in that nation, but it allows those

    Venezuelan authorities to be Cuba's proxies in trafficking drugs and

    weapons, and in providing support to such extremist organizations as

    Hezbollah and Iran's al-Quds.

    Cuba's close political ties with other state sponsors of terrorism –

    particularly Iran and Syria – and its history of sharing intelligence

    with rogue regimes are of serious concern and, according to former U.S.

    intelligence officials, pose a risk to U.S. counterterrorism efforts in

    the Middle East and elsewhere.

    As President Obama himself recognized last month when he renewed the

    "national emergency" designation regulating the movement and anchorage

    of vessels in the Florida Straits (a yearly evaluation process

    undertaken by U.S. presidents since the 1996 downing of U.S. civilian

    aircraft by the Castro regime), "the Cuban government has not

    demonstrated that it will refrain from the use of excessive force

    against U.S. vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities

    or peaceful protest north of Cuba."

    To remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list based on mere

    hopes of bettering relations would be foreign-policy malpractice. Cuba

    must earn its removal from this list. Clearly it has not done so, and,

    as long as the Castro brothers retain their absolute control over the

    island, nor is it likely to do so.

    Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and

    host of "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio. He is

    an attorney, served as an attorney-advisor with the U.S. Treasury

    Department, and was a member of the law faculty at the Catholic

    University of America and George Washington University.