Cuba languishes on terror list for no good reason

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 17 April 2013

from The Chronicle Herald

In some ways, the U.S.-Cuba relationship, even under the presidency of Barack Obama, is still locked in a Cold War time-warp.

For a host of illogical reasons, including Havana’s 2009 imprisonment of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who acted illegally in the country, Washington can’t seem to bring itself to break diplomatic bread with the Cuban government.

But there is some chatter in the halls of the U.S. State Department that newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry is seriously contemplating removing Cuba from an arbitrary list of countries that export or promote terrorism. By law, he has to make that determination and recommendation to the president before the department publishes its annual report on terrorism on April 30.

By keeping Cuba on that list, it prevents dual-use military technology - which could include advanced medical equipment - from reaching the island. It also compels Washington to oppose vigorously any loans to Cuba from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Interestingly, Secretary Kerry has a record of endorsing moderation in Washington’s irrational and punitive Cuba policy - including his unease with millions of U.S. dollars for secretive democracy-building programs in Cuba. He no doubt believes that the time is ripe for the U.S. (including the political situation in south Florida) to work toward normalizing its relations with the Cuban government.

Cuba has been on the terror list since it was first pulled together back in 1982. At that time, the reason for doing so was based on Havana’s material support for revolutionary movements and guerrillas in various Latin American countries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. That support no longer exists today.

And in the case of Cuba’s ties to the struggling Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) movement, there is no evidence that it has provided them with arms or paramilitary training. In fact, the Cubans have recently sought to curtail their relationship with ETA members residing on the island.

Further, they are now playing an important mediation role in seeking to resolve the long-standing internal conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government. No matter how you slice it, the rationale for not delisting Cuba is pretty thin.

But as a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times opined: “By all accounts, Cuba remains on the list - alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria - because it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism.”

It’s worth mentioning that the Cuban government strongly condemned the terror attacks of 2001, offered to send medical supplies and health care professionals in their aftermath, and acquiesced in Washington’s plan to house suspected terrorists at its Guantanamo Bay naval facility. Havana has now unequivocally condemned the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and rejected all forms of terrorism.

Surely if North Korea could be removed from the bad-boy list in 2008 by the former George W. Bush administration - and that Pakistan has never made it onto the list even though it had sheltered Osama bin Laden for years - it is long overdue to scratch Cuba’s name off. And the Cubans have certainly strengthened their case for doing so under the leadership of Raúl Castro, who has introduced fundamental economic and social reforms, permitted Cubans (including vocal dissidents) to travel freely abroad, opened a constructive dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, and released dozens of political prisoners.

The Canadian government, fresh from Minister John Baird’s visit to Havana, should be using its “good offices” to convince the Americans to delist the Cubans. If successful, it would have the salutary effect of bolstering Canada’s brand and profile in the region - a wise move given that the Harper government has made the Americas a centrepiece of its foreign policy thrust.

Removing Cuba from the terror list would also reassure the Cubans and go some way toward resetting the U.S.-Cuba relationship on a proper diplomatic footing. This symbolically important step, in conjunction with a series of other confidence-building measures (such as the release of Gross), might lead to the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and restore Washington’s credibility in the hemisphere.

Such a move would obviously be in the best interests of Cuba, the U.S. and the wider international community.

So let’s hope that Kerry makes the right call and drops Cuba from the nonsensical blacklist.

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