President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On April 14th President Barack Obama rescinded the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and so notified the Congress. This post will review that decision and its background. [1]

As discussed in a prior post, on December 17, 2014, President Obama asked Secretary of State John Kerry to undertake a review of whether the U.S. should rescind this designation while another post reviewed the statutory framework for this process: review and recommendation by the Department of State followed by a decision by the president and notification of such a decision to the Congress with such a decision to become effective 45 days after that notification. Yet another post set forth the reasons why this blogger believes that such past designations of Cuba have been unjustified, absurd, ridiculous.

 State Department’s Recommendation

Secretary of State’s Press Statement.

On April 14, 2015, Secretary Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that the President rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that last week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “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.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Department’s Background Briefing.

At a special briefing on April 14th, a senior State Department official noted, “the Cubans have for a long time shown us many, many, many speeches by their leaders, both Fidel and Raul, in which they have rejected terrorism; many instances, in fact, of terrorist acts that they have decried publicly, I think the latest probably being the Charlie Hebdo incident in France. But certainly, there are lots of incidents that they can point to. And in terms of commitments for the future, they point to both statements by their leadership and ratifications of international treaties, and the assurances that they gave us.”

Another senior official stated, ”the assurances they provide were fairly wide-ranging and fairly high-level. . . . [T]hey addressed the key elements that we know in the past have been a factor. [T]hey also addressed the pledge or the assurances that they will no longer support acts of terrorism in the future.”

One of the officials in response to a journalist question said, “The statutes . . . provide that no rescission can be made if within 45 days after the receipt of the report from the President the Congress enacts a joint resolution on the issue prohibiting the rescission. The President, of course, can veto any such joint resolution and Congress then, of course, can further act to override the veto. . . . Congress has the right to act.”

 President Obama’s Decision

That same day (April 14) a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

This presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

  • The actual presidential message to Congress was even shorter. It stated, “Pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and consistent with section 6(j)(4)(B) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, Public Law 96-72, as amended (50 U.S.C. App. 2405(j)), and as continued in effect by Executive Order 13222 of August 17, 2001, I hereby certify, with respect to the rescission of the determination of March 1,
    1982, regarding Cuba that:(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and

    (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

This certification shall also satisfy the provisions of section 620A(c)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Public Law 87-195, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2371(c)), and section 40(f)(1)(B) of the Arms Export Control Act, PublicLaw 90-629, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2780(f)).”

Reactions to the Decision

Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Dick Durbin (Dem., IL) and Benjamin Cardin (Dem., MD) were among those officials who offered immediate support of the decision. Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a private group that promotes democracy in the hemisphere, said: “Taking Cuba off the list of terrorist states is a sensible, and long-overdue step. Whatever U.S. and Cuban differences, the Cuban government has not been a supporter of terrorism.  Taking Cuba off the list will remove an unnecessary irritant in the relationship, and perhaps allow us to discuss the real differences we do have in a more serious way. It should help pave the way for normal diplomatic relations.” The same sentiment came from another U.S. NGO focusing on Latin America, the Latin American Working Group.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. Affairs, endorsed the decision. She said, “The Cuban government recognizes the just decision taken by the President of the [U.S.] to eliminate Cuba from a list on which it never should have been included, especially considering that our country has been the victim of hundreds of acts of terrorism that have cost 3,478 lives and disabled 2,099 Cuban citizens. As the Cuban government has reiterated on multiple occasions, Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations, as well as any action that is intended to instigate, support, finance or conceal terrorist acts.”

Not surprisingly long time Cuban-American opponents of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement criticized this decision: U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtine (Rep., FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL).

Rubio’s opposition undercuts his just-announced presidential campaign assertion that the “time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.” In contrast, he said, “too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the twentieth century. They are busy looking backward. . . . They look for solutions in yesterday.” Sorry, Senator Rubio, your ideas and solutions for U.S.-Cuba relations “are stuck in the twentieth century . . . in yesterday.” Stop looking backward!

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[1] This post is based upon the sources which are hyperlinked in this post along with the following: Archibold & Davis, Obama Endorses Removing Cuba From Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); Reuters, Obama Tells Congress He Plans to Remove Cuba From Terrorism List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015), Reuters, Cuba Gave U.S. Assurances It Will Not Support Terrorism in Future: U.S. Officials, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, Obama to Remove Cuba From State Sponsor of Terror List, N.Y. Times (April 14, 2015); DeJong, Obama removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Wash. Post (April 14, 2015); Tharoor, After 33 years, the U.S. dropped its claim that Cuba sponsors terrorism. Here’s what it means, Wash. Post (Apr. 14, 2015); Barack Obama announces intent to remove Cuba from list of state sponsors of terrorism, Granma (April 14, 2015); Wash. Office on Latin America, Press Release: White House Announces Cuba’s Removal from ‘State Sponsors of Terror List (April 14, 2015); Latin American Working Group, Statement about Cuba’s removal from list (April 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cubans Hail Removal From US List of State Terrorism Sponsors, N.Y. Times (April 15, 2015). The actual State Department recommendation could not be found on the Internet, but when it is so available, another blog post will review that document

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senator Klobuchar Introduces Bill To End Embargo of Cuba

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Senator Amy Klobuchar

On February 12, 2015, Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced S.491: Freedom to Export to Cuba Act. Its five cosponsors are Senators Richard Durbin (Dem., IL). Mike Enzi (Rep., WY),  Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Debbie Stabenow (Dem, MI). The bill was referred to the Senate’s   (a) Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and (b) Foreign Relations Committees.

                        Comments on S.491

Senator Klobuchar’s press release said the bill would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba and thereby pave the way for new economic opportunities for American businesses and farmers by boosting U.S. exports and allowing Cubans greater access to American goods. The legislation repeals key provisions of previous laws that block Americans from doing business in Cuba, but does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government. [1]

This press release also stated, “It’s time to the turn the page on our Cuba policy. Fifty years of the embargo have not secured our interests in Cuba and have disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores. There are many issues in our relationship with Cuba that must be addressed, but this legislation to lift the embargo will begin to open up new opportunities for American companies, boost job creation and exports, and help improve the quality of life for the Cuban people.” [2]

She subsequently told a Minnesota newspaper, “There’s been a sea change in terms of how people are thinking about Cuba. I think it’s really important to get people from the Midwest involved. Our interests are different than some of the other people traditionally involved in this issue. … We come at it from a production perspective, from the perspective of wanting to sell things there.” [3]

Klobuchar’s bill was endorsed by the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba. Its Chair, Devry Boughner Vorwerk of Cargill Incorporated, said, “We appreciate Sen. Klobuchar’s leadership to advance this bipartisan bill, modernize U.S. policy toward Cuba and boost opportunities for American agriculture. Ending the embargo will enable our agriculture sector to work in partnership with Cuba and the Cuban people, develop a meaningful trading relationship and create jobs across many sectors of our own economy.”

Internal Senate Political Concerns

As previously mentioned S.491 was referred to two committees: the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, each of which presents problems for successful passage of the bill. [4]

The Banking Committee has 12 Republican and 10 Democratic members. Its Chair is Richard Shelby (Rep., AL) while its Ranking Member is Sherrod Brown (Dem., OH). With two and maybe three exceptions, my initial impression is that the Republican majority will be opposed to the bill while the Democrats will support the bill. The two exceptions are Republican Jerry Moran (KS), who supports ending the embargo, and Democrat Robert Menendez (NJ), who opposes such action. The other possible exception is Republican Bob Corker (TN), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who issued a noncommittal statement about the December 17th rapprochement.[5]

The Foreign Relations Committee has 10 Republican and nine Democratic members. Its Chair is the previously mentioned Bob Corker (Rep., TN) and its Ranking Member is Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ). With three and maybe four exceptions, my initial impression is that the Republican majority, including Marco Rubio (FL), a Cuban-American who strongly and repeatedly opposes reconciliation, will oppose the bill while the Democratic minority will support the measure. The exceptions are Republicans Jeff Flake (AZ) and Rand Paul (KY), who have supported ending the embargo, and Democrat Menendez, a Cuban-American who vehemently opposes reconciliation with Cuba, including ending the embargo. The possible exception is Chair Corker, who has issued a noncommittal statement on the rapprochement. Thus, it is conceivable that there could be a 10-9  (or even a 11-8) vote approving the bill in committee. But if it does not also get out of the Banking Committee, that probably means very little.

These internal Senate political considerations prompted Klobuchar to acknowledge to the Minnesota newspaper that the Foreign Relations Committee’s obstacles for the bill “are clearly something to be reckoned with … but it doesn’t mean that two people [Senators Rubio and Menendez] can stop the whole thing.” She added that the legislation could come up through the Banking. Housing and Urban Affairs Committee or be passed in piecemeal fashion through other bills.

Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson, who is a cosponsor of a companion bill (H.R.403) in the House of Representatives, also talked to the Minnesota newspaper about the political difficulties of passing such measures. Indeed, he called the odds of lifting the embargo this year as “thin” due to the political sway of the older generation of Cuban-Americans in certain congressional districts.

Peterson thought the elimination of the embargo will “help [Minnesota farmers] a little bit” by increasing demand and, therefore, farm prices, “but it’s marginal in the whole scheme of things.”

Conclusion

I thank and congratulate Senator Klobuchar for introducing this important bill and the six other senators for cosponsoring the bill. 

I conclude by adding the following three reasons for ending the embargo that I have not seen elsewhere:

1. Without the embargo, the U.S. would not face the annual fall nearly unanimous condemnation of the embargo by the U.N. General Assembly.

2. The elimination of the embargo might assist the U.S. in combatting the increasing Chinese and Russian influence in Latin America.

3. Cuba repeatedly has claimed that the embargo has caused damage to its economy, and at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting Cuba asserted the total damages were $1.1 trillion. That obviously is a very large amount of money. I am confident that in any litigation or arbitration over such a claim the U.S. would mount a thorough critique and arguments to rebut the claim, including evidence and argument that any alleged damages were caused by Cuban ineptitude and that the major premise of the argument (the illegality of the embargo under international law) was unfounded. Nevertheless, as is true in any disputed claim like this, there can be no 100% guarantee that the claim will be rejected in its entirety. Thus, this damage claim must be recognized as a contingent liability of the U.S., and ending the embargo will minimize the amount of that liability.

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[1] On January 15th the Congressional Research Service issued CRS Report 4388: “Cuba Sanctions: Legislative Restrictions Limiting the Normalization of Relations” In a 15-page table it “lists the various provisions of laws comprising economic sanctions on Cuba, including key laws that are the statutory basis of the embargo, and provides —on the authority to lift or waive these restrictions.”

[2] Similar press releases were issued by Senators Durbin and Leahy.

[3]  Sherry, Sen. Klobuchar leads effort in U.S. Senate to life Cuba trade embargo, StarTribune (Feb. 13, 2015).

[4] The THOMAS legislative service of the Library of Congress late on February 12th said the bill was referred to both of these committees, but on February 13th it said it was only referred to the Banking Committee. Since the embargo clearly relates to foreign relations, I assume the latter THOMAS version is incorrect.

[5] Research-backed comments and corrections on the positions regarding Cuba by the members of these committees are solicited and welcome.