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
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.
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