Biden Administration Shouldn’t Prematurely Lift Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation

COMMENTARY Americas

Biden Administration Shouldn’t Prematurely Lift Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation

Jan 17th, 2021 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Ana Rosa Quintana

Former Senior Policy Analyst, Latin America

Ana Rosa Quintana led The Heritage Foundation’s efforts on U.S. policy toward Latin America.
The Biden administration should not be quick to reverse the Trump administration's decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. Roberto Machado Noa / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Earlier this week, the Trump administration designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Managing the Cuban regime will present a key challenge for the incoming Biden administration’s Western Hemisphere policy team.

U.S. interests are advanced when Cuba no longer harbors terrorists, empowers Venezuela’s brutal dictatorship, and moves toward real political reform.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. Despite critics claiming this was a politically motivated policy, the facts are quite clear.

For the last two years, the Cuban regime has refused to extradite leaders of the National Liberation Army, known internationally as the ELN, back to Colombia. In 2019, this terrorist organization set off a car bomb, killing 22 police cadets and injuring 89 others. At the time, the Colombian government and the ELN were in peace talks, which the government suspended and has yet to resume.

While Cuba has refused to hand over the terrorist leaders, the ELN continues trafficking drugs and kidnaping Colombians. Beyond that, Cuba’s continued refusal to extradite wanted American terrorists and fugitives meets the legal threshold for designation.

Critics of the administration claim the policy is politically motivated because of the close timing to the presidential transition. While the D.C. policy community obsesses over U.S. politics, real-world events rarely factor in the U.S.’ electoral calendar. It is highly improbable that the ELN factored the U.S.’ 2018 midterm election with its early 2019 car bomb attack.

This designation should not come as a surprise to Cuba watchers, either. In May 2020, the State Department informed Congress that Cuba was not in compliance with its counterterrorism obligations.

Managing the Cuban regime will present a key challenge for the incoming Biden administration’s Western Hemisphere policy team. Circumstances have changed from when former President Barack Obama normalized relations and unilaterally conceded on a host of matters. Cuba continued enabling Maduro’s repressive regime, human rights on the island worsened, and dozens of U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba fell victim to sonic attacks.

While allies of the incoming administration are pushing the administration to depart from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy, Biden’s team should leverage this opportunity.

The period following a terrorism designation requires lengthy reviews and assessments by various government agencies to determine which goods and services cannot be exported or transferred. Agencies must certify that items entering Cuba from the U.S. do not serve a dual purpose and cannot be used for terrorism.

It also permits the president to exempt certain items on the basis of national interest. This means that the Biden team has a considerable amount of time and leverage over the Cuban regime.

The U.S. needs meaningful cooperation and answers about the attacks against our diplomats. In a totalitarian society that controls what its citizens study in school, there is no conceivable way regime officials did not participate.

Cuba’s destabilizing presence in Venezuela’s must be addressed, as well. Nicolas Maduro’s illegitimate regime largely exists due to the support of Cuban state security. Colombia’s extradition order must be fulfilled.

No nation in the Western Hemisphere should continue harboring terrorists. Cuba must also return America’s wanted terrorists and fugitives, like Joanne Chesimard, wanted for executing a New Jersey state trooper

Obama’s normalization with Cuba proved to be a failed gambit, as granting unilateral concessions emboldened the Castro regime. The incoming Biden administration has an opportunity to leverage the sanctions set in place by his predecessor.

U.S. interests are advanced when Cuba no longer harbors terrorists, empowers Venezuela’s brutal dictatorship, and moves toward real political reform. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle should agree with these baseline facts.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal