Most Americans wouldn’t be able to determine what Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan have in common.
They are, in fact, the four countries that are on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” Not only does this designation of Cuba on the terrorist list affect our overall relationship with our island neighbor, it also affects our relationship with the Western Hemisphere, and the rest of the world, who do not see Cuba as a terrorist threat.
At the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, that took place on April 14-15, the rest of the Americas made it quite clear that without a change in our relationship with Cuba, another summit would not happen. If we are truly sincere about improving our relationship with Cuba, as President Barack Obama has maintained, the right place to start would be re-examining the designation of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Cuba has been on this list since March 1, 1982. According to a 2005 Congressional Research Services report, at the time of Cuba’s addition to the list “numerous U.S. government reports and statements under the Reagan Administration alleged Cuba’s ties to international terrorism and its support for terrorist groups in Latin America.”
Any rationale for keeping Cuba on this list has long-since disappeared, especially with Cuba now playing a principal role in facilitating and hosting the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations being held in Havana. If you take a look at the State Department’s website, the few paragraphs that detail Cuba’s designation on the list actually read more like reasons to take Cuba off.
By keeping Cuba on this list we are weakening the credibility of the entire list. In the past, other countries have been removed from the terrorist list. Why can’t we remove Cuba? Cuba has ratified all 12 international counterterrorism conventions, and even offered to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States on counterterrorism. Cuba also collaborates with the United States in counter-drug efforts in the Caribbean, and this cooperation is one that the U.S. government acknowledges and praises.
Iraq was removed from the list in 1982 and again in 2004 (after having been reassigned to the list). Libya was removed in 2006. Even North Korea was removed in 2008 (well, that may have been a mistake).
The presence of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism symbolizes everything that’s wrong with our approach to Cuba. It’s based on a myth (that Cuba sponsors terrorist groups) It reinforces Cold War-era prejudices (that Cuba is an “enemy” who we must isolate and oppose). It helps lock our foreign policy in stone. It prevents the United States from taking sensible steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba.