U.S. removes Cuba from list of terrorism-supporting states

The department submitted its report in April, and Obama, in a letter to Congress two weeks later, saying that the Cuban government “has not provided any support for international terrorism” in the past six months, and has “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

In its own statement on Friday – at the end of a 45-day congressional notification period — the State Department said: “While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

The move “reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission,” Jeff Rathke, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement. “While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions,” Rathke said, “these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

Some lawmakers, known for their opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba, were quick to criticize the administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said that to take Cuba off the list would be a “terrible mistake,” but he and other Hill critics on the Hill, including Representative Peter King (R-New York) and Scott Garrett (R-New Jersey) failed to mobilize much support among fellow lawmakers for a congressional action to block the removal, especially after legal advice that they had no legal means for blocking the removal.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush called the move a mistake. “Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them,” he said

Cuba was placed on the list of terrorism-supporting states in 1982 after evidence emerged that it was providing assistance to communist insurgents in Latin America and Africa. It has been decades, though, since the United States accused Cuba of direct military assistance for a foreign terrorist group.

In the last twenty-five years or so, the United States has criticized Cuba for offering shelter to members of Columbia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and ETA, the Basque separatist group. A decade ago Cuba broke its relations with ETA, and is currently hosting mediating an agreement between FARC and the Colombian government.

Frank Calzon of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Free Cuba, a non-profit working to promote democracy on the island, mentioned FARC and American fugitives from justice who fled to Cuba as his reason for criticising the Obama administration. “The president has given up the one leverage he had to obtain fugitives that murdered Americans and who are enjoying the hospitality of the Castro regime,” he said.

“Cuba’s listing as a sponsor of terror was renewed for years under this president. I think it’s shameful that Mr. Obama acquiesced to Raúl Castro’s pressure.”

The Cuban-American community has grown increasingly divided by generation and politics over the issue of relations with the island. Thus, the Washington, D.C.-based Cuba Study Group, a non-profit created in 2000 to promote peaceful change in Cuba, said it was “pleased” with the removal of Cuba from the terrorism list.

“For years, the arguments justifying Cuba’s continued inclusion [were] becoming more political than factual,” the group said, before urging Congress to lift the embargo.

“While today’s announcement is important and symbolic, the U.S.’s complex web of codified sanctions still create significant obstacles which hinder our ability to assist Cuba’s civil society and thus facilitate peaceful change,” the group said in a statement on Friday.

Miami, Florida-based Cuba Now was created by young Cuban-American businesspeople to promote greater business ties between U.S. and Cuban companies. Ric Herrero, the group’s executive director, welcomed the change of Cuba’s status. He conceded that “there is much to criticize about the Cuban government’s repressive practices,” but described Cuba’s place on the list as “the result of domestic political calculations rather than factual findings.”

“By lifting the designation, a cloud is lifted that will make it easier for U.S. citizens and American businesses to embrace the new regulatory environment in support of the Cuban people,” he told the Guardian.

Miami Beach, Florida-based Roots for Hope, a nonprofit led by young people in the Miami area, also supports greater interaction with Cubans, and has been working with tech companies to build Internet infrastructure on the island.

The administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list comes while the negotiations between the two countries are encountering difficulties. Officials have so far failed to reach an agreement on re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies.

Representatives of the two countries met last week for a fourth round of negotiations since December, but they left without reaching an accord on a long list of issue, without the resolution of which full-fledged embassies are not going to be opened.