Massachusetts Democrats call for removing Cuba from terror list
The Hill | Tuesday, 9 January 2024 | Click here for original article
A majority of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is pushing President Biden to remove Cuba from a list of governments that sponsor terrorism, a designation issued in the waning days of the Trump administration.
In a December letter not previously made public, the members panned Trump’s inclusion of Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list (SSOL) and asked Biden to reverse it.
“It was a vindictive action taken by the Trump Administration in January 2021 as it departed office, and the policy is well overdue for change. In fact, Cuba and the United States have a functioning bilateral cooperation agreement on counterterrorism,” wrote the members, led by Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern and Ayanna Pressley.
All current members of the Massachusetts delegation are Democrats; the letter was also signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Reps. Seth Moulton, Lori Trahan and Stephen Lynch.
The Democrats also prodded Biden on campaign pledges to review some of the Trump administration’s sanctions against Cuba.
“As a candidate for President, you promised to address re-engagement with Cuba and return to the policy begun during the Obama-Biden administration, and we supported you on this commitment,” they wrote.
Trump avoided including Cuba on the list until his last week in office.
Cuba’s inclusion on the list mandates severe restrictions on the island’s access to international financial markets, limiting its ability to conduct business with other countries and entities, which are forced to choose between trade with the United States or with Cuba.
Trump’s designation left Biden a hot potato, forced to choose between enforcing a policy that would contribute to Cuba’s economic stagnation—– and emigration from the island — or face political backlash for extending a hand to the island’s government.
“While there are multiple reasons for the economic crisis in Cuba, without a doubt a significant contributing factor is the restrictions and penalties facing international financial institutions and other entities because Cuba is on the SSOT list,” wrote the lawmakers.
Former President Obama removed Cuba from the list in 2015 after finding Cuba had not recently sponsored terrorist acts and pledged not to in the future.
On the campaign trail, Biden criticized Cuba’s human rights record while promising to backtrack on some Trump sanctions, but never publicly addressed the SSOT designation, which wasn’t in place until a week before Biden took office.
Members of Congress believed the designation would come under review shortly after Biden’s inauguration, beginning a statutory six-month process to set the table for Biden to reconsider the designation.
In December, some members were reportedly “furious” to hear the State Department never began the review process.
At a closed-door meeting first reported on by The Intercept, State Department official Eric Jacobstein told McGovern a misunderstanding led to Congress’s belief that Cuba’s SSOT designation was under review.
Yet the Massachusetts Democrats didn’t include that episode in their letter, which was sent about a week after the meeting.
“We recognize that much has changed in Cuba and in the United States since 2018, but two and a half years into your Presidency, the overwhelming number of sanctions put in place by your predecessor, including placing Cuba back on the SSOT list, remain in effect,” the members wrote to Biden.
But they did attack the reasoning behind Cuba’s inclusion on the list — allegations that the Cuban government was aiding terrorists in Colombia.
“As for the Trump Administration’s specious reason for returning Cuba to the SSOT list, during his most recent visit to the United States, Colombian President Gustavo Petro appealed personally to you for Cuba to be removed from the list to facilitate peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas,” they wrote.
And the members added that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also called on the United States to remove Cuba from the list, most recently in bilateral migration talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Cuba’s inclusion on the list is one of the factors depressing Cuba’s economy — the country’s communist government has made removal from the SSOT list a top bilateral priority.
At the same time, Cuba’s stagnant economy has spurred migration from the island, adding to Biden’s headaches at the border.
“The unabated hardships facing all sectors of Cuban society are the driving force for tens of thousands abandoning their homes and migrating to the United States. It therefore runs counter to U.S. direct interests to continue the collective economic restrictions that result from Cuba remaining on the SSOT list,” wrote the lawmakers.