WASHINGTON, D.C., April 14, 2015 (AMG) — Cuba will finally be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, according to statements by White House officials on Tuesday. The announcement comes on the heels of a historic face-to-face meeting between American President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro in Panama over the weekend during the Summit of the Americas – a multilateral regional conference attended by representatives from the Cuban government for the first time this year.
Cuban officials have consistently cited the U.S. government’s continued designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism as a major obstacle to the preservation of the rapprochement so recently publicly initiated by President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro. The White House’s pronouncement today promises to reignite this, seemingly stalled, process of diplomatic re-engagement between the two formerly hostile governments, and paves the way for the long-awaited opening of formal embassies in Washington and Havana.
More broadly, the State Department’s stubborn and persistent inclusion of Cuba on its infamous list has become something of a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States, uniting Latin and South American governments in opposition to what many see as a politically-motivated, outdated policy of U.S. imperial hostility toward the Caribbean nation. Cuba’s removal from the list can only serve to improve relations between the U.S. and its neighbors to the south.
“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” White House press secretary Josh Ernest explained to the media.
Cuba’s material and moral support to anti-colonial, nationalist and/or leftist third world insurgent groups first landed it on the American government’s state sponsors of terrorism list in 1982. Today, only Iran, Sudan and Syria remain on the State Department’s list.
A 2013 State Department report found “no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups” in recent years, a conclusion supported by public statements made by former Cuban president Fidel Castro in 1992 renouncing Cuban support for insurgents abroad. Since a government needs to have engaged in terrorist activity in the past six months to be included among the State Department’s designated state sponsors of terror, Cuba’s removal from the list is only natural.
Still, there will be a 45-day review period before Cuba is officially stricken from the list, during which time opponents of the move, and of President Obama’s Cuba policy generally, in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives could abort Cuba’s prospective re-designation with a joint resolution.
Congressional opposition to closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba is bipartisan, but is especially strong among segments of the Republican Party. Earlier today, one of the more vocal critics, Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, decried the White House’s decision in public statement. She argued that Cuba’s removal from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror “would be nothing short of a miscarriage of justice borne out of political motivations not rooted in reality.”
Another hardliner, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, formally announced his 2016 presidential bid yesterday.
Image credit: US State Department