Inside Track: Take Cuba Off The Terrorist List

Campaign News | Monday, 3 September 2007

by Wayne S. Smith

The author was a U.S. diplomat and specialist in Cuban affairs for roughly 25 years, leaving the Foreign Service in 1982, when he was Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, because of his disagreements over Cuba policy. He has been an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University since 1984 and a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC since 1992.

Cuba was placed on the list of terrorist nations in March of 1982 with little in the way of explanation. Twenty-five years later, the State Department’s reasons for keeping it there are totally unconvincing. It is not involved in any terrorist activities that the State Department can point to. It does not endorse terrorism, as the State Department says it does. On the contrary, it has condemned it in all its manifestations, has signed all twelve UN anti-terrorist resolutions and offered to sign agreements with the United States to cooperate in combating terrorism-an offer the Bush Administration ignores.

There are American fugitives in Cuba, yes, but even under our own legislation, this does not constitute grounds for declaring Cuba to be a terrorist state. And if Cuba does not regularly extradite those fleeing from American justice, the United States has not in more than 47 years extradited a single Cuban-including infamous terrorists such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles.

In sum, there is simply no credible evidence that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. The central question we should be asking is how can U.S. interests possibly be served by putting forward these spurious allegations and insisting that it is a terrorist state when it obviously is not, and by rebuffing its offers to cooperate in the struggle against terrorism? Does this not undermine our own credibility and cast doubt on our seriousness of purpose? Surely it is time to put an end to this dishonest and counterproductive policy. Congress should take the first step by holding hearings to examine the rationale and evidence-if any exists-behind this policy and to call for a new, more constructive approach.

Alleged Reasons for Placing Cuba on the List in the First Place

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) memorandum dated November 7, 2003, a copy of which Center for International Policy (CIP) has obtained, indicates that no explanation was given for Cuba’s inclusion on the list in 1982. According to the CRS memo, however, a State Department paper from a month before Cuba was placed on the list asserted that Cuba was encouraging terrorism and was especially active in El Salvador and Guatemala. Clearly, this must have been part of the rationale for placing it on the list. And yet, if Cuba’s support for guerrillas trying to overthrow an established government in El Salvador-or Guatemala-was enough to label it "a terrorist state", then the United States would have qualified as a terrorist state also, given that it was in the midst of supporting the Contras in their efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

Further, as I reported in my book, The Closest of Enemies, on April 19, a month after Cuba was placed on the list, the Reagan administration re-imposed restrictions on travel to the island (in the form of currency controls) and imposed various other sanctions against Cuba. The reasons it gave for these actions were 1) because "Cuba . . . is increasing its support for violence in the hemisphere" and 2) because Cuba refused to negotiate our foreign policy disagreements.

But as I pointed out in the book, in December of 1981, I had been informed by a high-ranking Cuban official that Cuba had suspended all arms shipments to Central America and that it hoped this major concession on its part would improve the atmosphere for negotiations, not only in Central America but between our two countries. This was almost certainly meant to be a response to a statement by Secretary of State Al Haig, who in a conversation with Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in Mexico the month before, had stated, in response to the Cuban’s indications of an interest in dialogue, that the United States wanted not words but changes in Cuban policies. Here was a major change.

I reported this December conversation to the Department of State, asking if we had any hard evidence to the contrary-for example, that Cuba was continuing to ship arms to Central America. If not, I recommended that the United States begin a dialogue.

I had to follow up with a number of cables, insisting on an answer. I finally got one in March, acknowledging that the United States did not have hard evidence of continuing Cuban arms shipments to Central America, but that it did not matter. In other words, the United States was not interested in dialogue. Where, then, was the evidence of "increasing support for violence"?

Cuba that was seeking negotiations-or dialogue-and the United States was rebuffing those overtures, not the other way around, as the State Department suggested. This outright misrepresentation of the facts to the American people was one of the factors which caused me to leave the Foreign Service shortly thereafter.

Bogus Reasons for Keeping Cuba on the List

After 25 years, Cuba remains on the State Department’s annual list of state sponsors of terrorism for reasons that do not withstand the most perfunctory examination. There is, for example, the oft-repeated charge that Cuba endorses terrorism as a tactic. Former Undersecretary of State John Bolton, for one, claimed in March of 2004 that Fidel Castro "continues to view terror as a legitimate tactic to further revolutionary objectives."

The charge is simply not true, and neither Bolton nor anyone else has been able to point to a single statement of Castro’s endorsing terrorism. On the contrary, there are myriad Cuban statements condemning it. Within hours of the 9/11 attack, for example, the Cuban government issued a statement condemning the attacks and ruing the loss of life. Late in September, Castro categorically condemned all forms of terrorism as an "ethically indefensible phenomenon which must be eradicated." He vowed that, "the territory of Cuba will never be used for terrorist actions against the American people."

Bogus Charges That Cuba is a Biological Warfare Threat

Back in 2004, Bolton said that the Bush administration was "concerned that Cuba is developing a limited biological weapons effort . . . and believes Cuba remains a terrorist and biological warfare threat to the United States."

Bolton’s charges caused a stir. Over the past three years, however, they have widely come to be seen as politically motivated and groundless. Certainly neither he nor anyone else has been able to put forward any evidence to support the charges. The Department of State no longer even makes them.

Further, the Center for Defense Information (CDI) sent several delegations to Cuba to investigate and in one case was accompanied by CIP. They were allowed to go anywhere they wished and see anything requested. Their conclusions were perhaps best summed up by retired General Charles Wilhelm, the former commander of SOUTHCOM, who accompanied one of the delegations. "While Cuba certainly has the capability to develop and produce chemical and biological weapons, nothing we saw or heard led us to the conclusion that they were proceeding on this path."

Wilhelm’s conclusions were practically echoed by a National Intelligence Estimate conducted in the summer of 2004 and reported in The New York Times on September 18, 2004. It said that "the Intelligence Community continues to believe that Cuba has the technical capability [emphasis added] to pursue some aspects of an offensive biological weapons program."

It made no claim, however, that Cuba was pursuing such a program.

In sum, unless accompanied by new evidence, any charges that Cuba poses a biological warfare threat to the United States must be seen as baseless.

Further, it should be noted that sending delegations to Cuba to investigate and discuss the matter with the Cubans showed that scientific exchanges, on a regular and ongoing basis, are clearly the best way to create transparency and build confidence in one another’s positions. We need more such exchanges, not fewer, and yet the Bush Administration has taken counterproductive steps to impede them.

The Case of the Annual Reports

One may have a twinge of sympathy for the analysts who craft the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Their instructions are to write and publish a report every year saying that Cuba is such a sponsor. But what about evidence?

In years past, the analysts seemed to handle that dilemma by using unverified and highly questionable reports. As monitoring efforts have increased over the past few years and the specious conclusions pointed out, the analysts seem to have turned to a new tactic-non-sequitors that do not prove that Cuba sponsors terrorism. This year’s report, for example, complained that "Cuba did not attempt to track, block, or seize terrorist assets, although the authority to do so is contained in Cuba’s Law 93 against acts of terrorism, as well as Instruction 19 of the Superintendent of the Cuban Central Bank."

But any decent lawyer would respond to that by asking "what assets?" There is no evidence at all that Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization has any assets in Cuba. And so, there is nothing to seize. The only thing the statement makes clear is that Cuba does have laws on the books against acts of terrorism. How, one might ask, does that square with the report’s assertion that it is a terrorist state?

And as it does every year, last year’s report mentions the presence in Cuba of members of the Basque ETA guerrilla organization, and the Colombian FARC and ELN. In past years, the State Department tried to suggest that they were in Cuba against the wishes of their respective governments and had sinister objectives. But that suggestion was shot down year after year by representatives of the Spanish and Colombian governments. This year, no such allegations are made. It is acknowledged that they are living in Cuba legally. Further, the report states that: "There is no information concerning terrorist activities of these or other organizations on Cuban territory. . . . The United States is not aware of specific terrorist enclaves in the country."

If they are there legally and are not involved in terrorist activities, then how does their presence in any way lead to the conclusion that Cuba sponsors terrorism?

This year’s report repeats its annual complaint that Cuba permits American fugitives to live in Cuba and is not responsive to U.S. extradition requests.

True, there are American fugitives in Cuba. Most are hijackers who came in the 1970s and have lived in Cuba since then. There are a few others, probably seven or eight, wanted for crimes committed in the United States. It is also true that Cuba has not responded positively to U.S. extradition requests. But two things must be noted about that. First, for all practical purposes, the 1904 extradition treaty is simply no longer operative, principally because the United States has not honored a single Cuba request for extradition since 1959. Second, most of the "crimes" committed in the U.S. were of a political nature, and Article VI of the treaty excludes the extradition of those whose crimes were of a "political character."

Furthermore, as Robert Muse, an international lawyer, noted in a 2004 report, none of the U.S. fugitives in Cuba provides a basis for declaring Cuba to be a "state sponsor of terrorism." Legal authority to make such a designation is found in Section 6(j) of the 1979 Export Administration Act, which says that it must be demonstrated that the fugitives have committed "terrorist" acts and that those acts were "international" in character. Muse states that he has been unable to identify a single U.S. fugitive in Cuba who meets those twofold criteria. Thus, they are extraneous to the definition of Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism."

In sum, as CIP has noted in its responses over the past few years, the annual reports present not a shred of evidence to confirm that Cuba is in fact a terrorist state.

A Policy that Undercuts Our Efforts Against Terrorism

And it is not only that we have no evidence that Cuba is a terrorist state. Our Cuba policy actually obstructs our own efforts against terrorism. As President Bush has said over and over again, anyone who shelters terrorists is a terrorist. But the fact is that we are sheltering a whole series of outright terrorists in Miami. The most recent arrival is the notorious Luis Posada Carriles, accused of being one of the masterminds of the bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976 that killed 73 innocent people, including the Cuban junior fencing team. He was in a Venezuelan prison awaiting trial on that charge when he escaped in 1985. He went to Central America, where for a time he worked for Oliver North in the Contra operation against Nicaragua.

Subsequently, in a 1998 interview with The New York Times, he bragged of ordering the bombing of a number of tourist hotels in Havana, which led to the death of an Italian tourist and the wounding of several other people.

And then in 2000, he was arrested in Panama and later convicted of "endangering public safety" because of his involvement in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro by blowing up a public auditorium where Castro was to speak before an audience of some 1,500. In 2004, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and her two congressional colleagues, Lincoln (R-FL) and Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL), appealed to then-President Mireya Moscoso to pardon him, along with three others involved in the plot: Guillermo Novo, convicted of the 1976 murder in Washington of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier (though his conviction was later overturned); Gaspar Jimenez, who spent six years in prison in Mexico for trying to kidnap a Cuban diplomat and killing his bodyguard in the process; and Pedro Remon, who had pleaded guilty in 1986 of trying to blow up the Cuban Mission to the United Nations.

In August of 2004, in one of her last acts as President of Panama, Moscoso pardoned them all. Jimenez, Remon and Novo, who were all American citizens, immediately flew back to Miami and received a hero’s welcome. Posada, who has Venezuelan citizenship, decided to bide his time in Honduras for a few months, but then, as we shall see below, quietly entered the U.S. in March.

Nor was this the first time Ros-Lehtinen had acted to free terrorists. Orlando Bosch, another mastermind of the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner, was released from Venezuelan prison under mysterious circumstances in 1987 and returned to Miami without a visa in 1988. The Immigration and Naturalization Service began proceedings to deport him, and as the associate attorney general argued at the time: "The security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credibly other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists. We could not shelter Dr. Bosch and maintain that credibility."

But shelter him we did. Urged on by Ros-Lehtinen and Jeb Bush-then managing her election campaign-George H.W. Bush pardoned Bosch, who has lived freely ever since in Miami.

Posada returned to Miami in March. Everyone knew he was there, but the federal government made no effort to apprehend him, or even to acknowledge his presence, until May, when he gave a press conference and forced their hand.

He was then arrested, but rather than charging him with acts of terrorism, he was simply charged with illegal entry and sent off to El Paso for an administrative immigration hearing, a complete farce. He was ordered deported, but, as the U.S. authorities already knew, there were no countries willing to take him except Venezuela, which had already requested his extradition for the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner. The federal judge, on nothing more than the opinion of a long-time associate of Posada’s, ruled that he could not be extradited to Venezuela for fear that he would be tortured there. Never mind that the Venezuelan government had given assurances that he would be held under the most transparent circumstances.

To hold him longer, but to avoid any charge of terrorism, the government then came up with a charge of giving false statements on his application of entry. Another sham, which finally ended on May 8, 2007, when Judge Kathleen Cardone, seeing clearly that skullduggery was afoot, charged the government with bad faith and "engaging in fraud, deceit and trickery." (That’s the Bush administration she’s talking about!)

That being the case, she said, "this court is left with no choice but to dismiss the indictment."

Posada was then freed and returned to Miami.

Some three months have now passed and the Bush Administration has given no indication that it intends to take any further action against Posada. What it should do is clear. Venezuela has asked for his extradition. We have an extradition treaty with Venezuela. Under that treaty, and others, we must either extradite him to Venezuela or we must indict him for acts of terrorism and try him in the United States. If we do not, we will be in blatant violation of international treaties and will be seen as openly sheltering another terrorist. Unfortunately, at the moment it seems that is exactly what the Bush Administration intends to do. If so, it will seriously undermine the credibility of our own stance against terrorism-taking us back to the idea that "one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter!" That is no way to win the war against terrorism.

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