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. Continue reading