On July 19, 2017, the U.S. State Department released its Country Reports on Terrorism 2016. One of its chapters lists these three countries as “state sponsors of terrorism:” Iran, Sudan and Syria. Other chapters discuss the terrorism records of most countries in the world.
This Reports document, however, made no mention of Cuba or statement as to the reasons for this omission. This was in sharp contrast to previous reports for the years 1981-2013, that listed Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” (i.e., the government of a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”) and the removal of Cuba from that category for 2014 and 2015.
At the press briefing on the latest Reports, a journalist asked whether Secretary of State Tillerson himself had made the decision not to put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors since at his Senate confirmation hearing he had testified that he “wanted to examine the criteria under which Cuba was removed from the list” in 2015 for the year 2014.
The State Department official responded: “Cuba was removed, and there is no requirement within the report for an individual chapter on every single country around the world. We produce chapters in the Country Reports based upon material, frankly, to include in the report. So it was assessed that there was not sufficient information there to provide a report this year on Cuba, but it was removed from the state sponsor list previously.”
The non-inclusion of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in this latest report, in this blogger’s opinion, is the proper conclusion and perhaps is a sign that the Trump Administration’s rhetoric about Cuba is louder and stronger than its bite. Let us hope.
Moreover, the statement that the State Department did not have sufficient information about Cuban counterterrorism efforts to include Cuba in the latest report is disingenuous. From December 2014 through January 19, 2017 (the last full day of the Obama Administration), the U.S. and Cuba held discussions about their respective counterterrorism efforts, and on January 16, 2017 the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement that provided for cooperation on various matters, including “the fight against terrorism.” These discussions, although not a matter of public information, must have provided the U.S. with significant information about Cuba’s counterterrorism efforts.]
Tomorrow the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes with the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump coming on January 20, and on their agendas is “unraveling some of the most significant policy prescriptions put forward by the Obama administration.”
Most of this speculation about upcoming changes in national policies does not include cancelling Obama’s policy of normalization of relations with Cuba. But as prior posts have indicated, President-Elect Trump’s most recent statements have criticized that policy as have Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and some of the appointees to the transition team and the new administration, especially Reince Priebus, the new White House Chief of Staff; Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, a transition team member for the Department of the Treasury; Mike Pompeo, a Congressman from Kansas and the nominee for Director of the CIA; and General Michael Flynn, the proposed White House National Security Advisor. 
In addition, three more Cuban-Americans have been appointed to the transition team, two of whom have been opposed to such normalization. They are (1) Yleem Poblete, who has been assigned to the transition team for the National Security Council; (2) John Barsa, who will work with the Homeland Security team; and (3) Carlos E. Díaz-Rosillo, who will work on policy implementation.  Here is a preliminary examination of these appointees.
For nearly two decades Yleem Poblete has advised members of Congress on a wide variety of global issues as a member and director of the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She also co-leads a consulting group, The Poblete Analysis Group, with her husband, also a Cuban-American, Jason Poblete. She also has served as an assistant professor and researcher for the director of the Institute of Inter-American Studies at the University of Miami.
She and her husband have written articles critical of President Obama’s pursuit of normalization with Cuba. They argued that Cuba was a ‘state sponsor of terrorism,” a designation rescinded by the State Department in May 2015; that the re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. increased the risk of Cuban spying on the U.S.; and that Cuba was a “pariah state [that] has earned every punitive measure imposed by the U.S.;” it “helped create and grow the Western Hemisphere drugs for arms network;” its “[h]ostile acts carried out by Havana’s spy recruits in the U.S. government are linked to American deaths;” it “also continues to collaborate with fellow rogues such as Iran;” it “harbors terrorists, as well as murderers and other dangerous fugitives of U.S. justice.”
After the death of Fidel Castro last November she tweeted, “Lost in talk of #castrodeath is #cuba regime murder of Americans, safe haven 4 terrorists & US fugitives, #Iran ties, arms to #NorthKorea.”
Barsa was the first director of the Department of Homeland Security Public Liaison Office, where he worked with the Department’s Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. Barsa also has experience with high-tech companies and was an assistant to Florida Republican Congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American known for his opposition to normalization. After Fidel Castro’s death, Barsa said, ““The contrast between Obama’s and Trump’s statements on the death of Fidel Castro is refreshing. MAKE CUBA GREAT AGAIN.” Barsa is a graduate in International Relations from the International University of Florida.
According to his Harvard University biography, Diaz-Rosillo is a lecturer on government at Harvard University; Allston Burr Assistant Dean of Harvard College, Dunster House; and director of transfer advising at Harvard College. His research focuses on the American presidency, campaigns and elections, political leadership, public policy, and comparative chief executive politics. His work examines the different instruments of power that chief executives have at their disposal to affect policy. He holds undergraduate degrees summa cum laude in international relations (BA) and civil engineering (BSCE) from Tufts University, as well as graduate degrees in public policy (MPP) and government (AM, PhD) from Harvard University.
Internet research did not uncover any statements by him about Cuba.
As a prior post stated, there regrettably are grounds for believing there is a dim future for continuation of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Those of us in the U.S. who believe that this is an erroneous move need to continue to advocate for normalization and to share that opinion with our Senators and Representatives, the Trump Administration and our fellow U.S. citizens.
After reviewing these documents, the post will conclude with observations on some of the points raised in these documents.
“FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba”
The introduction to the FACT SHEET, among other things, said, “It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. . . . It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” (Emphasis added.)
The FACT SHEET then provided the following “Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:”
“Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-
The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process. As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people. (Emphasis added.)
The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.” (Emphasis added.)
“Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-
The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce. Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.
These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.”
“Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-
General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.
The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector. Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”
“Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons–
Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.”
“Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-
The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector. Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”
“Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-
Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”
“Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-
U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.”
“Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-
Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”
“Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-
U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries. In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.”
“Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-
Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore. The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico”
“Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-
The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism. Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.”
“Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-
President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.” (Emphasis added.)
“Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society
A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (Emphasis added.)
The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials. (Emphasis added.)
The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
Background Conference Call
On December 17 two hours before President Obama’s speech to the nation, the White House conducted an hour-long “background” conference call with journalists and seven unnamed senior administration officials regarding these matters.
Among other things, one of the officials said the U.S. expects that “we’ll continue to have strong differences, particularly on issues related to democracy and human rights. The [U.S.] will continue to promote our values. We will continue to support civil society in Cuba. We’ll continue our democracy programming.” In President Obama’s December 16th telephone call with President Raúl Castro, Obama “made clear his intent . . . to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba.”
A State Department official stated the U.S. would not reduce its “emphasis on human rights, on democracy, on the importance of civil society. . . . In fact, our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy. We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”
For example, the State Department official stated a U.S. diplomat in Havana “will be meeting with members of Cuban society and dissidents later today to walk them through the President’s initiatives of today, and to emphasize to them, as well, that their efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights in Cuba not only won’t be forgotten in these initiatives, but will, in fact, take center stage.”
In response to a question as to whether there were discussions with Cuba about “USAID programs that have been pretty controversial in Cuba,” an administration official said U.S. “democracy programming . . . did factor into the discussions [with Cuba]. The Cubans do not like our democracy programming. They consistently protest those initiatives. . . . [The U.S., however,] made clear that we’re going to continue our support for civil society for the advancement of our values in Cuba. [This] . . . was an issue of difference that we will continue to have with Cuba, and we fully expect them to raise those issues just as we will raise issues with the Cubans about democracy and human rights. However, we’re going to do that through a normal relationship. We’re going to do that through our embassy in Havana. We’re going to do that through contacts between our various agencies.”
Vice President Biden’s Telephone Calls with Presidents of Colombia and Mexico
The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden made telephone calls about the new initiatives with Cuba to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. After outlining the agreement, Biden told each of them that President Obama intended to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” In the call to President Nieto, Biden said that the U.S. would initiate discussions with Cuba and Mexico about the unresolved maritime boundary of the Gulf of Mexico.
I concur in most of the FACT SHEET’s assertions about democracy and human rights that suggest that the U.S. will engage and work with the Cuban government to improve the Cuban people’s political, social and economic rights and that the U.S. no longer will seek to impose such rights or values on the Cuban people through covert or “discreet” programs. These statements are the following:
(i) “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
(ii) “U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.”
(iii) “A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”
(iv) The U.S. “will encourage [such] reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”
Other statements in the FACT SHEET, however, seems to undercut this benign interpretation: (i) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba. . . .” (ii) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba.” 
According to the FACT SHEET, “President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit.” The account of the Vice President’s telephone calls, however, seems to add that President Obama intends to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” I was surprised and disappointed to read that there was a precondition to Obama’s attending the summit: Cuba’s allowing members of its civil society to attend and participate in the Summit. While it may be a good idea to have civil society representatives from all countries, including Cuba, attend and participate, I think it unwise for the U.S. to provide Cuba with a veto on Obama’s attendance if it does not have such representatives there. I hope that this interpretation of the Vice President’s remarks is unfounded.
I am unaware of the details of the dispute about the maritime boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, but assume that it relates to oil or other resources under the Caribbean.
 Prior posts discussed the legal and political issues of rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and the U.S.’ previous concessions that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not commit future acts of terrorism.
 On December 20th Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew co-authored an article in the Miami Herald. It said the U.S. would have “continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” and would “continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.”
 The previous democracy/human rights programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State will be part of a subsequent post about the recent controversy about Cuba’s cancellation of n “open-microphone” event and arrests of its organizers.
As mentioned in a prior post, the U.S. since December 17, 2014, has been investigating whether it may rescind the Department of State’s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” under provisions of Section 6 (j) (4) of the Export Administration Act (50 U.S.C. § 2405(j)(4)). That statute allows any president to make such a rescission by submitting to Congress, at least 45 days in advance, “a report justifying the rescission and certifying that (i) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period; and (ii) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” (Emphasis added.)
Cuba has been put into the “State Sponsor” designation every year since 1982, and this blogger has read and reviewed all of the State Department annual terrorism reports that are available online (1996-2013). The five most recent reports (2009-2013) have been subjected to detailed analysis in blog posts with the conclusion that said designations of Cuba are absurd, ridiculous, stupid and cowardly. Those are the posts covering the reports for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2011 (supplement), 2012, 2013, 2013 (supplement).
One of the reasons why those designations are not justified is a collection of U.S. admissions in these very reports that in essence say that Cuba already “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future,” one of the statutory grounds for rescission of the designation. Here are at least some of those admissions, the details of which can be found in the previously mentioned blog posts:
In 2001 (after 9/11) Cuba “signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism.” After 9/11, “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.”
“There was no evidence that Cuba had sponsored specific acts of terrorism,” and “no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”
In 2010 the Government of Cuba was “aware of the border integrity and transnational security concerns posed by such transit and investigated third country migrant smuggling and related criminal activities. In November , the [Cuban] government allowed representatives of the [U.S.] Transportation Security Administration to conduct a series of airport security visits throughout the island.”
In 2010 “the Cuban government continued to aggressively pursue persons suspected of terrorist acts in Cuba.”
In 2010 the Government of Cuba “maintained a public stance against terrorism and terrorist financing.”
There was “no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba” and “no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba.”
Cuba has adopted 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).
After the multilateral “Financial Action Task Force (FATF) identified Cuba as “having strategic AML/CFT [Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism] deficiencies,” Cuba in 2012 “became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering [GAFISUD], a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.” Thereafter Cuba “officially engaged with the FATF and has also attended [the meetings of the relevant regional organizations] CFATF [Caribbean Financial Action Task Force] and GAFISUD.”
Although not mentioned in the U.S. reports, FATF in June 2014 said, “ Cuba has made significant progress to improve its AML/CFT regime.” Four months later (October 2014), “FATF welcomes Cuba’s significant progress in improving its AML/CFT regime and notes that Cuba has established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its commitments in its action plan. . . . Cuba therefore is no longer subject to the FATF’s monitoring process. . . . Cuba will work with GAFISUD to further strengthen its AML/CFT regime.”
Also not mentioned in the U.S. terrorism reports was the CIA’s judgment 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.”
In addition to these U.S. admissions, 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.”
Although not mentioned in the U.S. reports, in 2002, the government of Cuba proposed to the U.S. the adoption of a bilateral agreement to confront terrorism, an offer that it reiterated in 2012, without having received any response from the U.S.
As a result, I am confident that the Department of State’s investigation will conclude that Cuba “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future,” one of the statutory grounds for rescission of the designation; that the other ground–Cuba “has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period”—will be satisfied; and that the President will decide, presumably this June, to rescind the designation effective 45 days thereafter.
Then the focus will shift first to Congress to see whether it will adopt a joint resolution against the rescission. If it does, presumably President Obama will veto the joint resolution. Then focus would return to Congress to see if there are the necessary two-thirds votes in each chamber to override the veto.
U. S. citizens supporting the U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should follow this issue closely and lobby their Senators and Representatives to oppose any measure to countermand a presidential decision for rescission.
Under the December 17th U.S.-Cuba agreements, the U.S. is obligated to review whether the U.S. should rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” under U.S. law. This review is to be completed with a report to the President within six months (or by June 17, 2015). The President already has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to “immediately launch” that review.
Commentary by the Department of State
The same day Secretary of State Kerry announced that he already “had asked my team to initiate a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
The next day, December 18th, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson, held a press briefing on the many issues raised by the U.S.-Cuba rapproachment. She said the Bureau had “begun already – the process that we need to do under the law on the question of the state sponsor of terrorism listing, which has been in place since 1982.”
The Assistant Secretary added, “we’re not going to prejudge the outcome of the process we’ve just undertaken. . . . We’re going to undertake this review. We’re going to take it where the facts lead us on this. . . . At the end of that process, were Cuba to be removed from the list, there are a series of things that get taken off, some forms of sanction that get taken off. Although in Cuba’s case, I will say there are some overlapping . . . of things that may have been part of the state sponsor of terrorism list, and it may subsequently have been part of the Libertad Act or other legislation that deals with Cuba.”
In addition, she said,“[T]he law is fairly specific. . . . We have to review the record of Cuba over the last six months and ensure that they have not been participants or supported acts of international terrorism over the last six months. We have to look at whether they have renounced the use of terrorism. We have to look at their ratification of international instruments against terrorism. . . . I would have to look and check to see if there are other things that are in the law. . . . We then have to send any report that has conclusions on those subjects [to the President for his approval and transmittal] to the Congress, where it has to remain for 45 days. It’s an informing of Congress, not a request for approval or denial. It’s just an informing.”
Another point on the legislative process for the hypothetical recommended termination of such a designation was made at the November 17thdaily press briefing. The Departmental spokesperson said, “The relevant statutes also provide that . . . within 45 days after the receipt of the report from the President [deciding for rescission], the Congress would need to enact a joint resolution on the matter prohibiting this in order for it not to happen.” However, this statement is incomplete and, therefore, erroneous, as discussed below. While joint resolutions like bills have to be passed by both houses of Congress, they then have to be submitted to the president for signature or veto. In this hypothetical situation, any such joint resolution would be vetoed by the president.
The Merits of Past Designations of Cuba as a “State Sponsor“
Statute Regulating Rescission of a “State Sponsor” Designation
As Assistant Secretary Jacobson alluded to, under provisions of Section 6 (j) (4) of the Export Administration Act (50 U.S.C. § 2405(j)(4)) the following two alternative restrictions are imposed on any Administration’s rescission of any such designation.
First, the President may rescind such a designation by submitting, before the rescission takes effect, a report to Congress certifying that “(i) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned; [and] (ii) that government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and (iii) that government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This is not relevant for Cuba because there has not been “a fundamental change of leadership” in Cuba.
Second, and alternatively, the President may rescind such a designation by submitting to Congress, at least 45 days in advance, “a report justifying the rescission and certifying that (i) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period; and (ii) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s comments confirm that this is the relevant option for the Administration, and a future post will summarize concessions in the U.S.’ purported justifications for its prior designations that instead support the conclusion that Cuba ¨has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.¨
Such a report to Congress is merely an “informing” function, as the Assistant Secretary mentioned. But if Congress disagrees with the President’s decision to remove a country from the list, it could seek to block the rescission through a bill or a joint resolution.
Given the Republicans control of both houses of the Senate (54 of 100 with 44 Democrats and 2 Independents) and the House (247 to 188 Democrats) in the 114th Congress (2015-2017) and the belligerent opposition of some Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio to the new U.S.-Cuba path to reconciliation, such a legislative attempt to block the removal, in my opinion, can be expected.
But any such attempt, by bill or joint resolution, has to be submitted to the president for approval or veto. Obama presumably would veto any such measure, thereby requiring under Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution each house of Congress to obtain a two-thirds vote to override the veto. The Republicans by themselves will not have enough votes to override. If the Republicans had total party unity in such an effort, they would need 13 Democratic Senators and 43 Democratic Representatives to join them to overturn such a presidential veto. I think it unlikely they could obtain those extra votes. Let us hope they are not able to obtain such a super majority. We should lobby the Democratic Senators and Representatives (and some Republicans, like Senator Flake of Arizona) not to do so.
Stay tuned for future developments on the issue of rescinding the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” Be ready to lobby senators and representatives to resist any efforts to countermand any rescission.
This blog, which started on April 4, 2011, reports the following activity through December 31, 2014:
The busiest day for 2014 was December 11 with 321 views; for all time, 361 on December 13, 2012. For 2014 as a whole the viewers came from 183 countries with most from the U.S.A. followed by the Canada and the United Kingdom. This blog has 516 followers (Facebook, 324; direct, 154; Tumblr, 14; and commentators, 24).
The following were the most popular posts in 2014:
As indicated in detail in the Pages section on the right side of the home page, the posts and comments for 2011-2014 fall into the categories as stated in the following alphabetical Lists of Posts to dwkcommentaries-Topical:
Cuba [history and politics]
Education [my post-secondary education]
El Salvador [history and politics]
Law (Criminal Justice)
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December 17, 2014, was a historic day in the relations between the United States of America and Cuba. The day started with Cuba’s release of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, from a Cuban prison and his return to his home in the U.S. and of the similar release and return to the U.S. of an unnamed U.S. spy . Nearly simultaneously the U.S. released three Cuban spies from its prison..
President Obama’s Speech
At noon (EST) President Obama delivered a televised speech to the nation and the world about the U.S, and Cuba embarking on a new path of reconciliation. He opened with the bold proclamation,”Today the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba. After noting the prisoner exchanges, he said:
First. he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry “to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations” with an embassy in Havana. “Where we can advance shared interests, we will. . . . Where we disagree, we will raise those differences openly–as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.”
Second, the President had “instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism . . . to be guided by the facts and the law.”
Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.”
Fourth, the U.S. is “significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.” The U.S. is also facilitating “authorized transactions [with Cuba], . . including U.S. financial institutions opening accounts with their Cuban counterparts and increased U.S. exports as well as “increased telecommunications connections” with Cuba.
Fifth, the U.S. embargo against Cuba requires congressional action, and the President looks forward to “engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”
Sixth, the President also acknowledged that Cuba was releasing “a substantial number of prisoners” who had been jailed for political reasons, was increasing internet access to its citizens and its engagement with international institutions.
Nevertheless, the President acknowledged that there would not be “a transformation of Cuban society overnight.” He was convinced, however, “that through a policy of engagement we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the cuban people help themselves.”
Obama near the end of his speech said, “To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.” The U.S. “wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.”
Cuban President Raul Castro’s Speech
Nearly simultaneously Cuban President Raúl Castro made a televised speech to his country about the new path for Cuba and the U.S. After acknowledging the prisoner exchange and the release of some Cuban political dissidents from prison, he said the countries had “agreed to the restoration of diplomatic relations.” Unfortunately the U.S. embargo will not be ended immediately, but will be modified until Congress can enact a repeal.
The two countries will take mutual steps “to improve bilateral climate and move toward normalization of ties . . . based on the principles of international law and the [U.N.] Charter.” Cuba has also reaffirmed its willingness to discuss all issues of democracy, human rights and foreign policy. Cuba has urged the U.S. “to remove obstacles that prevent or restrict th e links between our peoples, families and citizens . . ., in particular those relating to travel, direct mail and telecommunications.”
“Progress in sustained exchanges show that it is possible to find solutions to many problems. . . . [W]e must learn the art of living, in a civilized manner, with our differences.”
These historic agreements raise many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts.