January 29, 2015 | Issue Brief on Caribbean
The Obama Administration has recently chosen to normalize relations with Cuba. In addition to establishing embassies and expanding commercial transactions, the White House has also declared that Cuba will be removed from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
To remove Cuba from the list would be to ignore both the Cuban government’s inherently malicious nature and the utility of terrorist designations. For over three decades, the Castro regime has directly supported organizations designated by the U.S. government as terrorist. Recent activities that warrant Cuba’s place on the list include Havana’s violations of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, leadership role in directing Venezuela’s military and intelligence, and steadfast support and intimate relationship with such countries as Syria, Iran, and North Korea. The Castro regime also continues to harbor U.S. fugitives and subsidize their livelihoods. One fugitive has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list since 2013 for killing a New Jersey State Trooper.
Removing Cuba from the list would also remove restrictions that preclude their receipt preferential foreign aid and trade benefits. Repealing the designation combined with further weakening of sanctions will not bode well for U.S. taxpayers. The regime routinely defaults on foreign loans and is guilty of the largest uncompensated theft of U.S. assets in recorded history, valued at $7 billion. Congress cannot ignore the implications of an undeserving regime’s being removed from this list.
President Obama’s new Cuba policy has been heavily criticized and rightfully so. His predecessors, both Republican and Democrat, recognized that a Cuba governed by the Castro regime will never be receptive to genuine engagement.
Previous unilateral attempts by the Carter and Clinton Administrations to reduce hostilities ended up backfiring on the U.S. In 1977, President Carter reestablished diplomatic relations by allowing each country reciprocal interest sections. The government in Havana responded shortly thereafter by sending expeditionary forces and resources to Marxist insurgencies in over a dozen African countries. The Clinton Administration for years attempted to improve relations and was rewarded by the Castro regime’s shooting down of Brothers to the Rescue flights. In what the U.S. determined to be an international act of terrorism, the Cuban military, at the order of current leader Raul Castro, shot down two American aircraft over international waters, killing three American citizens and one U.S. resident.
According to the State Department’s annual terrorism report, the government in Havana continues to support the terrorist Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). While the FARC have been weakened, it is premature to assume that they have been defeated. Throughout the past two years of peace talks in Havana, the FARC has continued to kidnap and kill Colombian civilians and military alike. FARC strongholds still exist throughout the country, and it is widely known that they have sanctuary just across the border in Venezuela. Considering that the FARC has relationships with Islamist terrorist organizations, has murdered a quarter-million Colombians, and has established drug trafficking networks spanning the globe, the threat that it poses is obvious.
Most recently in July of 2013, Havana was found to have violated UNSC arms trafficking resolutions 1718, 1874, and 2094. Panamanian authorities seized a North Korean freighter for attempting to transport missiles and fighter planes through the Panama Canal concealed under sacks of sugar.
Cuba walked away unscathed, despite being the first country in the Western Hemisphere to violate these resolutions. It should be noted that the State Department’s 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism made no mention of the incident despite its release date of April 2014.
According to Section 6 of the Export Administration Act (EAA), the law by which Cuba was added to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, the country can be removed from the list only if:
(A) (i) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned;
(ii) that government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and
(iii) that government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future; or
(B) (i) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and
(ii) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
It is easy to deduce that Cuba fails to meet the requirements of both sections. Cuba’s leadership has not changed, nor has its political system. In spite of its new relationship with the U.S., Cuba’s leader Raul Castro claims the government will not democratize. While Cuba’s financial circumstances have curbed its ability to support international terrorism, its alliances with Syria, Iran, and North Korea should remain a source of concern. It is also unlikely that the U.S. could ever receive genuine guarantees against future actions, as recent talks in Havana proved. Cuba’s top diplomat stated: “Change in Cuba isn’t negotiable.”
Terrorism designations as determined by the EAA are a critical instrument in foreign policy, as they carry restrictions on U.S. foreign aid, commercial transactions, and participation in international financial institutions.
Even though these restrictions and others are further reinforced by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, a law which strengthened the Cuban embargo, the Obama Administration is systematically chipping away at the embargo until it becomes obsolete. For example, the Administration recently expanded the allowable exceptions on Cuban imports from the U.S. Items such as building materials are now classified as agricultural products. It can be argued that this new regulation is a violation of the law as Castro’s military controls much of Cuba’s agricultural sector.
While terrorist designations fall under presidential powers, Congress can and should remain vigilant with respect to the White House’s dangerous rapprochements. The ultimate focus should be on promoting policies that protect U.S. national security while simultaneously promoting U.S. values such as freedom and democracy.
More specifically, Congress should:
Terrorism designation is not only about what the country is currently doing, but also about the potential for future malicious actions. Removing Cuba from the terrorist list is much more than a symbolic gesture. It carries far-reaching implications that can endanger U.S. national security interests.—Ana Quintana is a Research Associate for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.
 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, April 2014, pp. 213–214, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/225886.pdf (accessed January 27, 2015).
 Bruce Klingner, “North Korean–Cuban Arms Shipment Shows Need to Tighten Sanctions,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3996, June 22, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/07/north-korean-cuban-arms-shipment-shows-need-to-tighten-sanctions.
 U.S.C. § 2405(j)(4)(A).
 Bradley Klapper and Michael Weissenstein, “US, Cuba End Historic Talks with More Questions than Answers,” Associated Press, January 23, 2015, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/L/LT_UNITED_STATES_CUBA?SITE=AP (accessed January 27, 2015).
 Capitol Hill Cubans, “During Obama–Castro Negotiations, Over 13,000 Political Arrests Took Place in Cuba,” Capitol Hill Cubans, January 6, 2015, http://www.capitolhillcubans.com/2015/01/during-obama-castro-negotiations-over.html (accessed January 27, 2015).
 Klapper and Weissenstein, “US, Cuba End Historic Talks with More Questions than Answers.”