U.S.’ Absurd Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On May 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on terrorism in the world: Country Reports on Terrorism 2012. A prior post reviewed the report as a whole

We now examine this report’s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” i.e., as a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” This post’s analysis is also informed by the U.S.’s similar designation of Cuba in the annual reports on terrorism for 1996 through 2011.[1] Earlier posts analyzed and criticized the reports for 2009, 2010 and 2011.

State Department’s Rationale

The following is the complete asserted justification for the Department’s designation of Cuba for 2012:

  • “Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982. Reports in 2012 suggested that the Cuban government was trying to distance itself from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members living on the island by employing tactics such as not providing services including travel documents to some of them. The Government of Cuba continued to provide safe haven to approximately two dozen ETA members.
  • In past years, some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were allowed safe haven in Cuba and safe passage through Cuba. In November, the Government of Cuba began hosting peace talks between the FARC and Government of Colombia.
  • There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.
  • The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States. The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.
  • The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has identified Cuba as having strategic anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism deficiencies. In 2012, Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.”

Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale

On its face this alleged justification proves the exact opposite: Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism.

Indeed, this and earlier U.S. reports admit that “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world” (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009), that there was no evidence that Cuba had sponsored specific acts of terrorism (1996, 1997) and that there “was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups” (2011, 2012). Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Some also reported that in 2001(after 9/11) Cuba “signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism” (2001, 2002, 2003).

I also note that the latest report in its Western Hemisphere Overview says that in “2012, the majority of terrorist attacks within the . , . Hemisphere were committed by the . . . [FARC]. The threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the Western Hemisphere.” There is no mention of Cuba in this overview.

Nor is there any mention of Cuba in the latest report’s “Strategic Assessment” that puts all of its discussion into a worldwide context.

All of this rebuttal so far is based only on what the State Department has said about this designation since 1996.

In addition, the Cuban government has taken the following actions that strengthen the rebuttal of the designation and that, to my knowledge, the U.S. has not disputed:

  • First, Cuba publicly has stated that Its “territory has never been and never will be utilized to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor for the organization, financing or perpetration of acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the [U.S.]. . . .  The Cuban government unequivocally rejects and condemns any act of terrorism, anywhere, under any circumstances and whatever the alleged motivation might be.”
  • Second, in 2002, the government of Cuba proposed to the U.S. the adoption of a bilateral agreement to confront terrorism, an offer which it reiterated in 2012, without having received any response from the U.S.
  • Third, Cuban President Raul Castro on July 26, 2012 (the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution) reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. In response the U.S. repeated its prior position: before there could be meaningful talks, Cuba had to institute democratic reforms, respect human rights and release Alan Gross, an American detained in Cuba.

But let us go further.

1. Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists 

The first stated basis for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is its allegedly providing safe havens to individuals associated with two U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations–ETA and the FARC–and to certain fugitives from U.S. criminal proceedings.

                a. ETA

There are only 20 to 24 ETA members in Cuba, and by now they must be older people who have not participated in any terrorist activities in Spain for many years. They are “side-line sitters.”

Moreover, the 2011 and 2012 reports state that Cuba is “trying to distance itself” from the ETA members on the island and is not providing certain services to them.

Earlier U.S. reports also reflect the limited nature of this charge. Of the 20 to 24 members, some may be there in connection with peace negotiations with Spain (2009). In May 2003, Cuba publicly asserted that the “presence of ETA members in Cuba arose from a request for assistance by Spain and Panama and that the issue is a bilateral matter between Cuba and Spain” (2003). In March 2010 Cuba “allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members” (2010).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Spanish Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Spain was “not concerned about the presence of members of . . .  ETA . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances his country’s ability to deal more effectively with ETA.  In fact, the Ambassador added, some ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government.

The last two U.S. reports say that Cuba is providing “safe haven” to the ETA members, but their separate chapters on the legitimate international problem of terrorist safe havens have  no mention whatsoever of Cuba.

                b. FARC

Most of the reasons for the speciousness of the charges regarding ETA also apply to the charges regarding the Colombian group, FARC.

In addition, the 2008 report said in July of that year “former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.”

There is no indication in the State Department’s reports of the number of FARC members allegedly in Cuba, but some may be there in connection with peace negotiations with Colombia (2009 report).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Colombian Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Colombia was “not concerned about the presence of members of FARC . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with FARC.

The Cuban connection for Colombia and the FARC resulted in a September 2012 statement by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations about the then recently-announced peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC. It stated that Cuba “has a historical commitment to peace in Colombia and efforts to put an end to [her] . . . political, social and military conflicts.” To that end, the Cuban Government “has made constructive efforts to . . . search for a negotiated solution, always responding to a request from the parties involved and without the slightest influence in their respective positions.” The statement continued. For over a year, at the express request of the Government of Colombia and the FARC, “the Cuban government supported the . . . exploratory talks leading to a peace process,” and as a “guarantor” Cuba participated in these talks. “The Cuban government will continue to . . . [provide its] good offices in favor of this effort, to the extent that the Government of Colombia and the FARC . . . so request.”

As a result, as the latest State Department report admits, in November 2012 Cuba has been hosting peace negotiations in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC seeking to end their long civil war. Colombia’s president said that support for such negotiations by Cuba and Venezuela has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

Late last month (May 2013), the two sides announced an agreement to distribute land to small farmers and undertake development projects that would improve rural education and infrastructure that will not take effect until a final peace agreement is reached.

                c. U.S. fugitives

There apparently were or are over 70 individuals living in Cuba who are fugitives from criminal charges in U.S. relating to violent acts in the 1970’s purportedly committed to advance political causes, but pursuant to a 2005 Cuban government statement, no additional U.S. fugitives have been permitted on the island. In a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S. (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009).

One of the U.S. fugitives, William Potts, recently has asked to return and face trial in the U.S. In 1984, he  hijacked a Piedmont Airlines passenger plane with 56 people aboard in the U.S. and forced it to go to Cuba. There as a Black Panther and self-styled revolutionary, he dreamed of receiving military training in Cuba that he could use against the U.S. government. This did not happen. Instead he was tried and convicted in Cuba and served a  13.5 years in a Cuban prison plus 1.5 years of supervised release for the hijacking.

None of these fugitives apparently is affiliated with U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations. The issue of whether or not they will be extradited to the U.S. is an appropriate issue for bilateral negotiations between the two countries. But, in my opinion, it is not a legitimate basis for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

2. Cuba’s Alleged Financial System Deficiencies

The other asserted ground in the latest U.S. report for the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” was new for 2011 and is reiterated (in modified form) for 2012. It is Cuba’s having been identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) [2] as “having strategic AML/CFT [Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism] deficiencies.”

Last year’s U.S. criticism of Cuba on this issue went on to say, “Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF.  It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body.”

In 2012, however, Cuba joined such a regional body (the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering in South America (GAFISUD)), and  FATF recently said Cuba has “developed an action plan with the FATF” with “written high-level political commitment to address the identified deficiencies.”

The State Department’s recent report comes close to admitting this significant change in 2012. In short, the U.S. admits that Cuba is addressing its alleged financial system deficiencies.

Moreover, as of February 2013, Cuba is not on the FATF’s list of “bad guys” (my phrase).  The two at the bottom of that list are Iran and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), for which FATF calls for all states to apply counter-measures. The other 13 on this list are ones that have strategic AML/CFT deficiencies, but have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies: Ecuador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sao Tome and Principe, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Vietnam and Yemen.

But all of these facts about Cuba’s financial system, in my opinion, do not support designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” If it were, then 13 countries on the “bad guy” list should be added to the U.S. list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” (Of the 15 countries on the “bad guy” list, only Iran and Syria are now U.S.-designated “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”)

Moreover, as noted above, the U.S. terrorism reports have indicated there was no evidence of Cuban financing of terrorism in the covered years. In addition, some of the reports reference Cuban laws permitting the tracking, blocking, or seizing terrorist assets (Cuba’s Law 93 Against Acts of Terrorism and Instruction 19 of the Superintendent of the Cuban Central Bank) (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008). In addition, in its response to last year’s U.S. report, Cuba has asserted that it “regularly provides precise, truthful information to the appropriate United Nations bodies charged with addressing these issues and others related to confronting terrorism.”

The whole FATF issue raised in the U.S. terrorism report, in my opinion, is a “red herring.”

Conclusion 

In summary, the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is absurd. This conclusion is shared, in less colorful language, at least by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group, former President Jimmy CarterThe Atlantic magazine’s  noted national correspondent (Jeffrey Goldberg) and a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General (John Adams).

Not surprisingly the Cuban government comes to the same conclusion. It said last year, “the only reason Cuba is kept on this list is exposed as an attempt to justify the U.S. blockade of our country, as well as the adoption of new measures to limit our financial and commercial transactions, to strangle the Cuban economy and impose a regime which responds to U.S. interests.”

Whatever legitimate issues are raised by these U.S. reports, I submit, they are appropriate subjects, among many, for the bilateral negotiations that a prior post recommended should occur between the U.S. and Cuba to the end of reconciliation and restoration of normal relations.


[1] Cuba has been so designated since March 1982.The U.S. terrorism reports for 1996 through 2012 are those that are accessible on the U.S. State Department’s website. I would appreciate detailed comments from anyone with knowledge about the reports for 1982-1995 although they are less relevant due to the passage of time.

[2] FATF “is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdictions. [Its] . . . objectives . . .  are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF is therefore a ‘policy-making body’ which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in these areas.” In other words, it apparently is a voluntary international organization, not one established by a multilateral treaty. FATF currently has 34 member jurisdictions (or only about 18% of the U.N. member states) plus 2 regional organizations (the European Council and the Gulf Co-Operation Council) representing most major financial centers in all parts of the globe. Starting in 1990,”FATF has developed a series of Recommendations that [it claims] are now recognised as the international standard for combating of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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