On April 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on terrorism in the world: Country Reports on Terrorism 2013. A prior post reviewed the report as a whole.
We now examine this report’s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” [“SST”], 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 designations of Cuba in the annual reports on terrorism for 1996 through 2012. Earlier posts analyzed and criticized the reports about Cuba for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
State Department’s Rationale
The following is the complete asserted justification for the Department’s designation of Cuba for 2013:
- “Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982.
- Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government. Throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two. The Government of Cuba has facilitated the travel of FARC representatives to Cuba to participate in these negotiations, in coordination with representatives of the Governments of Colombia, Venezuela, and Norway, as well as the Red Cross.
- 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.”
Rebuttal of State Department’s Rationale
On its face alone, this alleged justification proves the exact opposite: Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism. Nevertheless, a detailed rebuttal follows.
U.S. Admissions of the Weakness of Its Designation
First, the report itself admits, “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.” This is consistent with past U.S. admissions 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, 2013). Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Second, earlier U.S. reports admitted that “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world” (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009) and 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).
Third, the latest report’s Western Hemisphere Overview says the FARC “committed the majority of terrorist attacks in the . , . Hemisphere in 2013.” There is no mention of Cuba in this overview. The same was said in the report for 2012.
Fourth, there is no mention of Cuba in the latest report’s “Strategic Assessment” that puts all of its discussion into a worldwide context.
Fifth, the latest report makes no allegations against Cuba regarding money laundering and terrorist financing, which was one of the purported bases for the SST designation for 2012. Thus, the U.S. apparently has recognized the weakness of such charges were evident to all, as discussed in this blogger’s post about the prior report and a related post about Cuba’s adoption of regulations on these financial topics.
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:
- 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.”
- In 2002, the government of Cuba proposed to the U.S. adoption of a bilateral agreement to confront terrorism, an offer which it reiterated in 2012, without having received any response from the U.S.
- 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.
Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists
The only remaining asserted basis for the “SST” designation is Cuba’s alleged providing safe haven to individuals with two U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations—ETA (an armed Basque nationalist and separatist group in Spain) and FARC (an armed Colombian rebel group)—and to certain fugitives from U.S. criminal proceedings.
Analysis shows that these charges do not support the SST designation.
Prior U.S. reports say there were only 20 to 24 ETA members in Cuba, and the latest report says “Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant, and . . . about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government.” Thus, there are only 12 to 16 ETA members remaining 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 U.S. reports state that Cuba is “trying to distance itself” from the ETA members on the island and was not providing certain services to them.
Earlier U.S. reports also reflect the limited nature of the charges regarding ETA. Of the 20 to 24 members previously on the island, the U.S. said, some may be in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with Spain (2009). In May 2003, the U.s. reported, 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, a U.S. report stated, Cuba had “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 Spanish 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.
At least the last three 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.
It also should be noted that there has been some movement towards an understanding to resolve the ETA challenges to the Spanish government. In September 2011 an international verification commission was established to help broker such a resolution, and the next month ETA announced a unilateral cease-fire. More recently, February 2014, that commission announced its corroboration of a partial disablement of ETA weapons. The Spanish government, on the other hand, publicly has refused to negotiate and instead has insisted that ETA admit defeat and surrender unconditionally. In addition, the government still enforces a criminal law against publicly glorifying terrorists or their actions with April 28th arrests of 21 Spaniards for praising terrorist groups such as ETA and radical Islamists, for encouraging further attacks, and for making fun of victims on social networking sites.
In the meantime, Spain as a member of the European Union is participating in negotiations between the EU and Cuba to establish a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement without any mention of ETA members being on the island. Recently the parties completed the first round of those negotiations with an understanding that the final agreement will have these four components: political dialogue and governance; cooperation and sectoral policies; the economy and trade; and management of the bilateral relationship. The subject of human rights will remain an issue in the chapter on the Political dialogue and governance.
In summary, I submit, any objective analysis shows that Cuba’s limited connection with a small number of ETA members is no legitimate reason for the U.S. SST designation.
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 U.S. 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 for 2009 the U.S. reported that some may be on the island 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.
Cuba’s limited connections with 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.” The Government of Colombia publicly stated its gratitude for Cuban facilitation of such negotiations.
As a result, the last two U.S. reports admit that Cuba has “supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two sides.” In addition, Colombia’s president has 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.
In 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.
In short, Cuban involvement with some FARC members is not a legitimate basis for the U.S. designation of Cuba as a SST .
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, as the U.S. has admitted, since at least 2005 Cuba has not admitted any additional U.S. fugitives. In addition, the U.S. also had admitted that 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, this year voluntarily returned to the U.S. after serving a 15-year Cuban sentence for the 1984 hijacking of a Piedmont Airlines passenger plane with 56 people aboard in the U.S. and forcing it to go to Cuba. On May 1, 2014, Potts appeared in a U.S. federal court and pled guilty to kidnapping (with a possible life sentence); under a plea agreement, the government dropped an air piracy charge (with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years). Potts is asking the court to give him credit for the 15 years he already served in a Cuba prison on the same charge. Sentencing is scheduled for July 11th.
None of the other U.S. fugitives apparently is affiliated with any U.S.-designated 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.
In any event, the presence in Cuba of some fugitives from U.S. criminal charges is not a legitimate basis for the U.S. designating Cuba as a SST.
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, former President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group, The 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. In response to the latest designation, it stated,” Cuba’s Foreign Ministry “energetically rejects the manipulation of a matter as sensitive as international terrorism by turning it into an instrument of policy against Cuba and it demands that our country be definitively excluded from this spurious, unilateral and arbitrary list.” Last year, it said “the only reason Cuba is kept on this list is . . . 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.”
The U.S. itself also has damned the designation by faint praise. In a press briefing about the most recent terrorism report, a journalist pointed out some of the weaknesses of the stated rationale and asked when the U.S. would cancel the designation. The State Department spokesperson refused to speak directly about the purported rationale for the Cuban SST designation. Instead the spokesperson said, “there’s not a routine process by which you re-evaluate the state sponsors. . . . [and the annual terrorism reports just list those on the SST list. It is not]as if every year we look at those and re-evaluate them in some way based on the report.”  She added she knew of no plans to remove the SST designation for Cuba.
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.
In the meantime, this SST designation is ridiculous, absurd, stupid. It can only continue, in this outsider’s opinion, because of the Administration’s political cowardice in facing resistance to an elimination of this designation, especially from influential Cuban-Americans in Congress, especially Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
All U.S. citizens should protest this SST designation to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, Senator Menendez (and your own Senators), Representative Ros-Lehtinen (and your own Representative).
 The State Department also posted this statement on its website. “While there are no statutory triggers for review of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, the State Department can review such designations at its discretion. With respect to criteria for rescission, there are two possible pathways to rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, in accordance with the relevant statutory criteria. The first path requires the President to submit a report to Congress, before the proposed rescission would take effect, certifying that: (1) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned; (2) the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and (3) the government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.The second path requires the President to submit a report to Congress, at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, justifying the rescission and certifying that: (1) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six month period, and (2) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
 In April 2014, Senator Menendez made a speech on the Senate floor endorsed Cuba’s SST designation while castigating Cuba on all sorts of issues.
 Responding to the latest designation, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), said Cuba “continues to pose a national security threat to the United States.” She added that recently “the Castro regime has been responsible for training the ‘colectivos’ in Venezuela that violate human rights and murder innocent civilians and Cuba was caught trying to ship military equipment to North Korea in violation of many United Nations Security Council resolutions [and the] tyranny in Havana is also guilty of harboring terrorists, providing safe haven for American fugitives, and building a sophisticated spy network that seeks to undermine our national security interests at every turn.”