State Department officials have made a proposal to designate Cuba as the state sponsor of terrorism. This is a last hour foreign policy move that would complicate the new Biden administration’s plans to ease increasing American pressure on Havana.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has two weeks to go before the inauguration day, according to two US officials. This would also be a thank you to the Cuban Americans and other anti-communist Latinos in Florida who strongly supported President Trump and his Republicans in the November election.
It is unclear whether Mr Pompeo decided to continue the nomination. However, Democrats and foreign policy experts believe that Mr Trump and his senior officials are keen to curtail President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s first few months in office and make it difficult for Mr Biden to reverse Trump-era’s policy abroad. In the past few weeks, Trump officials have also tried to increase American pressure and sanctions against China and Iran.
A finding that a country has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” in the State Department official description a state sponsor of terrorism automatically triggers US sanctions against its government. If Cuba was added to the list, it would only join three other nations: Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
The Biden government could act quickly to remove Cuba from the list. However, this would require more than the stroke of a presidential pen. The State Department would have to conduct a formal review, a process that could take several months.
A State Department spokeswoman said the agency was not discussing “considerations or possible considerations” on terrorist terms. The White House made no comment.
The Democrats attacked the Cuba proposal on Tuesday, criticizing a so-called foreign policy change in the 11th hour that unfairly restricts the incoming Biden team.
“It’s another ruse this president will do in less than 23 days,” New York Democrat Gregory W. Meeks, the new chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a telephone interview.
“He’s trying to handcuff the incoming administration,” added Meeks.
The State Department removed Cuba from its list of terrorism sponsors in 2015 after President Barack Obama announced the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana for the first time since the country’s 1959 communist revolution, which he described as a relic of the Cold War. In return for pledging political and social reforms, Obama dropped economic sanctions, eased travel and trade restrictions, and reopened an embassy in Havana for the first time in decades. In 2016, he became the first American president to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge.
The Reagan administration first put Cuba on the terrorism list in 1982 to support left-wing insurgents in Latin America. During the Obama era, the State Department called it a “safe haven” for Basque separatists and Colombian rebels. But Obama administration officials eventually concluded that neither the aging Basques nor the Colombian rebels who participated in peace talks in Havana that led to a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016 posed a terrorist threat.
The transition of the president
They were also ready to accept that the Cuban government has hosted some wanted refugees in the United States, including Joanne D. Chesimard, 73, a former member of the Black Liberation Army. Ms. Chesimard, now named Assata Shakur, remains on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted Terrorist List for killing a New Jersey State soldier in 1973.
In a possible re-listing preview, the State Department Congress notified In May, Cuba was among five countries where it said it was not fully cooperating with American counter-terrorism efforts – the first time since 2015 that Cuba was not certified for it.
The notice cited Cuba’s rejection of a request by American ally Colombia for the extradition of 10 Havanan leaders of the country’s National Liberation Army after the group assumed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a police academy in Bogotá, killing 22 people were.
But the Democrats said the idea that Cuba posed a terrorist threat to the outside world was a political fiction.
“This is complete nonsense. Cuba is not a government sponsor of terrorism, ”said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser who played a key role in brokering the government’s deal with Havana.
Mr Trump denounced the deal as “terrible and misguided” and has withdrawn many of its provisions. During visits to South Florida, he boasted that he was opposed to communism in Latin America and warned Mr Biden against it, a message that proved popular with Cuban Americans and other anti-Havana voters.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to change American policy againand said he would “immediately reverse the failed Trump policies that have harmed the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”
The repressive government of Cuba largely disappointed hopes for liberalization after the death of its revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in November 2016. Havana continues arrest and hold on Dissidents and a recent hunger strike by artists and other activists in the capital have shown many Republicans that their government does not deserve warm ties from Washington.
Trump administration officials also harshly criticized the Cuban government’s support for Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolás Maduro, whom Mr. Trump tried unsuccessfully for years to break out of power.
In one (n Opinion paper Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and an influential voice in Cuban politics, published this month in The Miami Herald, urged Mr. Biden to “stand there with the dissidents” and urge him “not to join a unilateral Cuba – Return to politics – and throw a lifeline to Raúl Castro’s dictatorial regime. “
U.S. officials said the plan to put Cuba back on the terrorism sponsor list was drawn up in a departure from the standard process by the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Office, rather than the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which normally plays a pivotal role such a decision would play.
Mr. Rhodes called this evidence of a politically motivated process. “This is a sign that they know they cannot put Cuba on the list on the matter,” he said.
Critics say the Trump administration has begun politicizing such labels as being a national security issue. This month the United States removed Sudan from the list of terrorist sponsors, days before the African nation joined the list of Arab nations that have established diplomatic relations with Israel, a top priority for Mr Trump.
The Trump administration recently took action against Cuban companies run or affiliated with the Cuban military. Finance last week blacklisted three such companies.
A recent report commissioned by the US State Department found that staff at the US Embassy in Havana fell ill from a microwave weapon of unknown origin in 2016. The Cuban government has denied any knowledge of such attacks.
Pranshu Verma Contribution to reporting.