On May 12, 13 and 14, the U.S. State Department made three negative statements about Cuba. First, it listed Cuba and four other countries for “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019. Second, the U.S. identified Cuba and four other countries for allegedly creating, disseminating and amplifying disinformation and propaganda in the Western Hemisphere. Third, an anonymous source said the U.S. was considering re-designating Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the end of the year.
These U.S. statements along with reactions thereto are discussed below.
Cuba’s Alleged Noncooperation Over Counterterrorism
According to the Department on May 12, there were two points of alleged non-cooperation.
- Cuba’s Refusal To Extradite Colombian Guerrilla Leaders to Colombia
The first related to Cuba’s refusal to extradite to Colombia 10 leaders of the Colombian rebel group—the ELN (the National Liberation Army)—who are living in Cuba after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 60 others. The State Department said, “As the United States maintains an enduring security partnership with Colombia and shares with Colombia the important counterterrorism objective of combating organizations like the ELN, Cuba’s refusal to productively engage with the Colombian government demonstrates that it is not cooperating with U.S. work to support Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security, and opportunity for its people.”
Yes, it is true that there was such a bombing in Bogota, that the ELN claimed responsibility for same, that certain ELN leaders are living in Cuba and that Cuba has declined to extradite them to Colombia. There indeed is reason for Colombia to be outraged. But the U.S. citing this as an objectionable refusal to cooperate with the U.S. is inappropriate and objectionable.
Since 2005, Cuba has been acting intermittingly as a mediator of the conflict between these two parties. These peace talks, however, have been inconclusive. The first round started in 2005 and ended in August 2007, when the ELN said there were “two different conceptions of peace and methods to get to it.” The next year (2008) then Colombian President Alvaro Uribe invited an ELN representative to the Colombian Presidential Palace for new talks, but the ELN did not accept the invitation.
In 2012, the ELN tried and failed to negotiate a position for itself at a peace conference in Cuba between the government of former [Colombian] President Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Five years later, in 2017, the ELN and the Colombian government formally entered peace negotiations in Cuba. In October 2017, those talks resulted in the Colombian government’s accepting the ELN’s offer of a ceasefire, the first between the two.”
“The ceasefire between the ELN and the Colombian government encountered difficulties in early 2019 with new Colombian President Duque’s demanding the ELN to stop kidnapping and to release hostages as a condition for the continuation of the peace talks, which the ELN refused. This lead to the ELN attack in January 2019 on the police academy and the Colombian government’s suspending the peace talks indefinitely. As of June 2019, President Duque has called for the arrest and extradition of the ELN leadership present at the Havana peace talks.”
On March 29, 2020, ELN announced a unilateral 30-day ceasefire starting April 1 as a “humanitarian gesture” during the coronavirus pandemic and stated its williness to reviving suspended peace negotiations. The Colombian government immediately responded by announcing that two former ELN commanders would serve as “peace promoters” (gestores de paz). On April 27, 2020, however, ELN announced that effective May 1 it would resume its guerrilla war because of a lack of response by the conservative government of President Duque, who allegedly lacked “the will” to resume stalled peace talks in Havana.
Under these circumstances Cuba invoked the protocols for the peace talks stipulating that, upon a breakdown of negotiations, Cuba would facilitate the return of ELN members to safe havens in Colombia. However, because Colombia’s government expressed the intent to arrest ELN members upon their return to the country, rather than allow their returns to safe havens, Cuba refused extradition.
ELN predictably denounced this U.S. action. The ELN emphasized that these protocols are guaranteed by Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Norway and Venezuela and that Colombia is violating them by insisting upon Cuba’s extradition of ELN leaders to that country. The FARC also backed this position by withdrawing from a meeting of Colombia’s Commission for Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Agreements of Peace.
Cuba’s trying to assist peaceful resolution of these disputes is an important contribution to overall peace in the region and takes precedence over the U.S. demanding that Cuba do what the U.S. wants it to do. Moreover, as the Washington Office on Latin America stated, this U.S. action “sends the message that if a state agrees to host peace talks, and doesn’t violate its word, that state could still face severe consequences for its contribution to global peace and security. In Colombia, as reprehensible as the ELN’s actions were, this sends a perverse message to any group that might decide to enter into a future peace process with the government.”
Instead, in this blogger’s opinion, the U.S, should press both the Colombian government and the ELN to resume peace negotiations in Cuba with the latter’s assistance.
- Cuba’s Refusal To Return U.S. Fugitives to the U.S.
The second ground cited by the U.S. for non-cooperation is Cuba’s harboring “several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades. For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. The Cuban Government provides housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”
Yes, it is true that several U.S. fugitives have resided on the island for a long period of time, and Cuba has declined U.S. requests for their return. The most significant has been Ms. Chesimard, who was convicted in New Jersey state court of aiding and abetting the murder of that State Trooper; she was in the car with men who had guns and killed the trooper, but she did not pull the trigger.
She escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, which granted her political asylum, and under U.S.-Cuba extradition treaties of 1905 and 1926, each country is not obligated to extradite someone when the offense is of “a political character.”
Moreover, Cuba has cooperated with the U.S. on this issue by discussing the issue in bilateral talks with the U.S. during President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with the island, by not admitting any other U.S. fugitives to the island and by extraditing some such fugitives to the U.S.
Cuba’s Alleged Disinformation and Propaganda
On May 13, additional statements against Cuba were made in the context of the perceived threat to the U.S. from disinformation and propaganda in Latin America. The State Department’s briefing on this subject was conducted by Michael G. Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Lea Gabrielle, Special Envoy and Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.
According to Kozak, Cuba (along with Russia, China, Iran, the former Maduro regime in Venezuela, and other malign actors) play a role in the creation, dissemination, and amplification of disinformation and propaganda around the region with the purpose of undermining the efforts of the competent authorities in the region to address the [pandemic] crisis appropriately.”
Most of the specific comments were directed at Russia, China and Venezuela. The only ones specially about Cuba were in the concluding remarks by the Special Envoy, who said:
- Cuba has “capitalized on COVID-19 to try to amplify its longstanding propaganda campaigns around its medical missions, routinely amplifying reports of Cuban doctors assisting in the fight against COVID-19 in countries around the world.And we certainly encourage Cuba to allow its doctors to provide their assistance freely instead of withholding their salaries, confiscating their passports, and forcing them into destitute living and working conditions, but what we’re seeing is the Cuban propaganda machine have a global reach through social media. So we’ve identified, for example, more than four dozen Twitter accounts that are key components of that global network, including accounts in Venezuela alongside other countries in the region, even as far as Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. And these accounts have worked together to try to obscure the well-documented exploitation inherent to the Cuban medical program.”
The Special Envoy’s comments implicitly admit that Cuba’s medical missions to combat the coronavirus pandemic have been favorably (and legitimately) received around the world, which annoys the U.S. She then repeats the U.S. canard that Cuba illegally treats its medical professionals on these missions. As discussed in prior posts, there has been no credible showing by the U.S. that Cuba has been and is engaging in illegal forced labor of these medical professionals.
U.S. Possible Re-Designating Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism
On May 14, an anonymous State Department source told Reuters that by the end of this year the U.S. might re-designate Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” which was lifted in 2015 during the Obama Administration’s normalization of relations between the two countries.
This anonymous source said there was a “convincing case” for such re-designation because of Cuba’s continued backing of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and its providing refuge for ELN leaders. If that re-designation happens, it would carry the risk of further U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
This threat is ill founded. The U.S. in May 2015 officially rescinded its designation of Cuba as such a Sponsor for well founded reasons.
A Miami-based Cuba-exile group supporting closer ties with Cuba, Cuba Study Group, said, “We always knew this administration planned to return Cuba to the to the SSOT. Now starts the slow election-year rollout for maximum theatrical effect. Just for you, Miami.”
All of these U.S. statements about Cuba are unjustified. They all are premised on the dominant U.S. saying “my way, or the highway.” Instead, the U.S. should encourage both the Colombian government and ELN to resume peace negotiations with the assistance of Cuba. In addition, the U.S. should propose the resumption of respectful discussions with Cuba over the many issues that have accumulated over the last 60 years, including the ending of the U.S. embargo of the island.
 The four other countries are Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela.(See State Dep’t, Countries Certified as Not Cooperating Fully With U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts (May 13, 2020); Reuters, U.S. Says Cuba Is Not Cooperating Fully on Counterterrorism, N.Y. Times (May 13, 2020).
 Mapping Militant Organizations. “National Liberation Army,” Stanford University (Last modified July 2019); National Liberation Army (ELN), Wikipedia; Johnson, The National Liberation Army (ELN) Joins Colombia’s Santos for Peace, Crisisgroup.org (May 12, 2016); Colombia’s ELN rebels call ceasefire over coronavirus, BBCNews (Mar. 30, 2020); ELN Unilateral Ceasefire an Important Opportunity for Peace in Colombia, wola.org (Mar. 30, 2020); Colombia’s ELN rebels scrap ceasefire, France 24 (April 27, 2020); Washington Office on Latin America, Inaccurate Trump Administration Charges Against Cuba Damage Prospects for Peace Talks in Colombia and Elsewhere. WOLA.org (May 14, 2020); Guerrilla of the ELN:’It is perfidy’ for the US to include Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2020).
 See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives (Feb. 24, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation (June 10, 2016); Criticism of U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement (Jan. 21, 2017); Congressional Proposal for Extradition of U.S. Fugitives in Cuba (Dec. 16, 2017).
 State Dep’t, Telephonic Press Briefing with Ambassador Michael Kozak & U.S. Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle (May 13, 2020).
 The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which was created by a President Obama Executive Order on March 14, 2016, has a mission “to direct, lead, synchronize, integrate, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations.”
 E.g., U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues To Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor, dwkcommentaries.com. (Aug. 17, 2017). .
 Reuters, Exclusive: U.S. Considers Returning Cuba to List of State Sponsors of Terrorism-Source, N.Y. Times (May 14, 2020). See also the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Baseless Ground for U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (Nov. 6, 2014); U.S. Has Conceded Many Reasons Why Cuba Has Provided Assurances That It Will Not Support Future Acts of International Terrorism (Jan. 3, 3015); President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (April 15, 2015); U.S. Rescinds Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (May 29, 2015).