U.S. Considering Re-Designating Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism” 

According to the Miami Herald, the U.S. is considering re-designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” if Cuba’s government and military continue to support Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. A senior U.S. official said,  ”What Cubans are doing in Venezuela is unacceptable,. And the United States is evaluating options to address that behavior.” [1]

This unnamed official added, ““The Cubans are executing a strategy to keep the military from second-guessing their support to Maduro. The only thing that is preventing the generals from supporting President Juan Guaidó is the surveillance Cubans are doing. What is keeping [Nicolas] Maduro going is Cuba’s logistical support.”

Another potential reason for such a re-designation is Cuba’s refusal so far to extradite Colombian leaders of the guerilla group ELN — in Havana for currently suspended peace negotiations —for suspected involvement in. last week’s fatal car bombing in Bogota. The Cuban government, however, condemned the attack, but said it would follow the protocols agreed at the start of peace negotiations in 2017. These provide security guarantees for guerrilla commanders to return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of an end to talks and bar military offensives for 72 hours. [2]

Reactions

This possible re-designation predictably was endorsed by Senator Marco Rubio. He said, “Maduro had ‘bought’ the loyalty of the largely corrupt generals. They are also loyal, by the way, because the Cubans are spying on them. The Cuban intelligence agencies quickly pick up on any of these military officers that are being disloyal or expressing doubts and those guys are arrested. There has been a massive purge of Venezuelan military officers over the last two years … And it wasn’t because of corruption … It was because the Cubans caught them and reported them.”

According to William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert and American University professor, “Putting Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of international terrorism would not have a major practical impact on Cuba because almost all the financial sanctions that such a designation entails are already in place under the broader Cuban embargo. However, Cuba would take it as a great insult, and it would certainly have an extremely negative effect on state-to-state cooperation on issues of mutual interest.”

LeoGrande added, ““The Cuban government certainly recognizes that Maduro’s situation is dire and the worst outcome for Cuba would be complete regime collapse through civil violence or external military intervention. Regime collapse would probably mean an immediate end to Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba — a blow to [Cuba’s] already fragile economy. Cuba would be willing to help find a negotiated political solution to the Venezuelan crisis . . . but only if both Maduro and the opposition are willing to seek such a solution. At the moment, neither side seems willing to accept any compromise. As a result, the Cubans are essentially stuck with Maduro, even as the chances for his survival diminish.”

Another U.S. expert on Cuba, Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College, said, “Returning Cuba to the list could be disastrous for the Cuban economy because it would scare away desperately needed foreign investments, already very small.”

Background

The State Department summarizes the statutory requirements for “state sponsor of terrorism” as a state that has been “determined [by the Secretary of State] to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” [3]

The Cuban government was on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism from 1982 until 2015, when the Obama administration ruled the island was no longer supporting terrorist organizations. More specifically, the State Department in April 2015 stated its recommendation to President Obama for rescission “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba. [4]

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[1] Gamez Torres, U.S. considers putting Cuba on terror list over island’s support of Maduro, Miami Herald (Jan. 25, 2019).

[2[ Reuters, Cuba Urges Colombia, ELN Rebels to Follow Peace Talks Protocol, N.Y. times (Jan. 26, 2019).

[3] State Dep’t, State Sponsor of Terrorism. The three statues are section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.

[4] President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (April 15, 2015). See also other posts listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical (CUBA).

The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department, pursuant to legislative authority, annually identifies countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” and designates them as “state sponsors of terrorism.”[1] The U.S. currently designates the following four countries as “state sponsors of terrorism:” Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.[2] Note that Libya and North Korea, which were previously on the list, are no longer present; these are two stories for others to pursue.

The following is the complete text of the State Department’s rationale for its most recent designation of Cuba:[3]

  • “The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates, while at the same time remaining critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism. Although Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Government of Cuba continued to provide physical safe haven and ideological support to members of three terrorist organizations that are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States.”
  • “The Government of Cuba has long assisted members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Freedom Organization (ETA), some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Colombia and Spain. There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009, though it continued to provide safe haven to members of the FARC, ELN, and ETA, providing them with living, logistical, and medical support.”
  • “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters. However, the Cuban government continued to permit U.S. fugitives to live legally in Cuba. These U.S. fugitives include convicted murderers as well as numerous hijackers. Cuba permitted one such fugitive, hijacker Luis Armando Peña Soltren, to voluntarily depart Cuba; Peña Soltren was arrested upon his arrival in the United States in October.”
  • “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.”[4]

One of the factual predicates for the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” is true: FARC, ELN and ETA have been designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” by the State Department, and such designations presumably are well founded. But what has Cuba done with respect to these three organizations? It has provided “physical safe haven and ideological support to [an unspecified number of their] members.” How many members? What were the particulars of the safe haven?  We are not told other than “living, logistical, and medical support.” And some of these members, the State Department concedes, were in Cuba to participate in peace negotiations with the governments of Columbia and Spain. Moreover, by the State Department’s own admission, there “was no evidence of direct financial support [by Cuba] for [these three] . . . organizations in 2009.”

Further qualifications to this basis for the designation were made in the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report, which said that “on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding [in Colombia] without preconditions.”  Fidel  “also had condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians [in Colombia] who had no role in the armed conflict.”[5]

The other factual predicate for the most recent designation, I submit, is outright insufficient. Cuba, the State Department says, has continued to permit an unspecified number of U.S. fugitives (“convicted murderers and numerous hijackers”) to live legally in Cuba. Even if true, it is difficult to see how this is support of terrorism. Moreover, we are not told how many such fugitives there are and the circumstances of their cases. The State Department does not even call them “terrorists.” Again, the State Department’s prior annual antiterrorism report on Cuba provides details further undermining this charge.  It stated, “The Cuban government continued to permit some U.S. fugitives—including members of U.S. militant groups such as the Boricua Popular, or Macheteros, and the Black Liberation Army to live legally in Cuba. In keeping with its public declaration, the [Cuban] government has not provided safe haven to any new U.S. fugitives wanted for terrorism since 2006.”[6]

The balance of the State Department’s most recent “rationale” is, in fact, complimentary of Cuba. “”The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates.” “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and        other parts of the world.” “Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters.” “Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.” Another complimentary comment was made in the prior annual report:  there is “no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba.”[7]

The designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” has been reviewed by the Congressional Research Service, which said in 2006: Cuba was first designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. Although it has ratified all 12      counterterrorism conventions, it has remained opposed  to the U.S. global war on terrorism. The CIA judged in August 2003 that ‘We have no credible evidence, however, that the Cuban     government has engaged in or directly supported international terrorist operations in the past decade, although our information is insufficient to say beyond a doubt that no collaboration has occurred.'”[8]

Some prior U.S. antiterrorism reports talked about Cuba’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program, but note that there is not any mention of such an alleged program in the most recent report. This canard was also rebutted by the Congressional Research Service: “The Administration’s assertions concerning Cuba’s WMD programs, which some observers dispute, focus on limited biological weapons research and development. Construction at the Juragua nuclear facility (two incomplete Russian nuclear power reactors) was indefinitely postponed in 1997.”[9]

The State Department’s best case for calling Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism,” upon analysis, is ridiculous. The designation should be rescinded, and the U.S. and Cuba should get down to the real business of engaging in face-to-face, serious negotiations to resolve their many long-accumulated differences.


[1]  Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. (U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 (Aug. 5, 2010), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2009/index.htm.) Such designation results in the following sanctions by the U.S.: (1) a ban on arms-related exports and sales; (2) controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism; (3) prohibitions on economic assistance; and (4) imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

[2]  Id.

[3]  Cuba is the oldest member of the list; it has been on this list since January 1, 1982. Id.

[4]  Id.

[5]  U.S. Dep’t of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008, ch. 3 (April 30, 2009), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2008/122436.htm.

6]  Id.

[7]  Id.

[8] CRS, Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options (Oct. 5, 2006), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/74901.pdf. See also CRS, Cuba and the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (May 13, 2005), http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32251.pdf.

[9]  Id.