Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    The weakest link in the trade-embargo chain

    Posted on Tuesday, 02.25.14

    The weakest link in the trade-embargo chain

    In late January, Cuba announced it had decided to freeze funds linked to
    the terrorist groups al Qaida and the Taliban. Signed by President Raúl
    Castro, the decree stressed that the sanctions demonstrated Cuba’s
    “commitment in the fight against money laundering, financing terrorism
    and the proliferation of weapons.”

    A few days later, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
    met in Havana. Among the documents generated at the meeting, there is
    one labeled “Special Declaration to Support the Fight Against Terrorism
    in All its Forms and Manifestations,” which “rejects the inclusion of
    Cuba in the so-called list of States Sponsoring International Terrorism
    of the U.S. State Department.”

    In early February, the Atlantic Council — a think tank that promotes
    “constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs” —
    released the results of a poll on U.S.-Cuba policy conducted among
    randomly selected U.S. adults. The survey, which concludes that a
    majority of Americans would like to normalize relations with Cuba,
    included a question about whether or not Cuba “belongs on the State
    Sponsors of Terrorism List.”

    Just a few days later, and for the second time in less than three
    months, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. D.C., announced that
    it will suspend all consular services, a decision that will prevent
    thousands of Cuban Americans and other Americans from traveling to the

    On both occasions, the Cuban representatives claimed they were forced to
    take this dramatic step because they cannot find a U.S. bank to handle
    their accounts. On both occasions, the Cubans argued that their accounts
    are problematic for U.S. banks because Cuba is on the State Sponsors of
    Terrorism List.

    By now the reader must have recognized a pattern: the State Sponsors of
    Terrorism List (the SST List.) Those of us who follow Cuban affairs are
    used to the regime’s tirades against the U.S. trade embargo. The
    emphasis on the SST List, however, is fairly new in the regime’s
    saturation campaign against U.S. policy. Considering that Cuba has been
    on the list since 1982, what explains this offensive right now? Even
    more interesting, Havana’s offensive coincides with a growing interest
    in the SST List by liberal think tanks such as the Atlantic Council and
    others. Is this a coincidence?

    Let me be perfectly clear: I am not accusing the Atlantic Council of
    being in cahoots with Havana to change current U.S. policy. Rather, I
    think Havana is copying the strategies of the U.S. anti-embargo lobby
    and timing its own campaign to coincide with theirs so as to create
    momentum. This is not difficult to believe, considering how transparent
    the political debate is in this country, and the proficiency of Cuban
    intelligence in recruiting romantic American academics.

    Even though the embargo was codified into law by the Helms-Burton Act
    and can only be lifted by Congress, the president has the prerogative to
    tweak the policy through executive orders. But the SST List, which
    mandates a number of sanctions against included countries, constitutes a
    legal obstacle to any further relaxation of policy.

    The U.S. anti-embargo lobby has thus identified the SST List as the
    weakest link in the chain of U.S.-Cuba policy. Its explicit goal is to
    have the president use his executive power to remove Cuba from the SST
    List immediately after this year’s November elections, and then make
    other “adjustments” to the Cuba policy before the end of President
    Obama’s second term.

    There is no question that in many ways the interests of the U.S.
    anti-embargo lobby and those of the Cuban regime overlap to a
    significant degree. Taking Cuba off the SST List will open the door for
    the White House to lift the travel ban. Flooding Cuba with millions of
    naïve American tourists is probably No. 1 on the regime’s Top 10 list of
    “Things We Need Most to Stay in Power Indefinitely.”

    My friends in the anti-embargo lobby overestimate the influence of
    American tourists, and forget there is not a single case in contemporary
    history where a totalitarian regime was toppled, even weakened, by
    foreign tourists.

    Cuba may have a lower profile on jihadist terrorism than others on the
    SST List, but if the regime wants its name removed, it needs to do a lot
    more than just announce financial sanctions against al Qaida. Releasing
    Alan Gross and delivering fugitive Joanne Chesimard to U.S. justice
    would be a good start.

    Sebastian A. Arcos is associate director of the Cuban Research Institute
    at Florida International University.

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