U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is considering returning Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with the New York Times.
The U.S. previously included Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982, but President Barack Obama’s administration reversed the stance in May 2015.
According to the State Department, countries listed as terrorism sponsors are automatically subject to sanctions that restrict them from U.S. foreign assistance, defense exports and sales and other financial restrictions. Three countries are currently designated by the U.S. as sponsors of terrorism; Iran, North Korea and Syria.
President Ronald Reagan first placed Cuba on the state terrorism sponsor list in 1982 for supporting leftist insurgents in Latin America. Prior to de-listing Cuba, the Obama-era State Department also listed Cuba as a “safe haven” for Basque separatists and Colombian rebels. The Obama administration later concluded neither group posed a terrorism risk, and the Colombian rebels joined peace talks in Havana that eventually led to a 2016 peace agreement with the Colombian government.
In May, the State Department did list Cuba as one of several countries not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, in a move that could support the basis for returning Cuba to the state terrorism sponsor list. In the May notice the State Department said Cuba refused to extradite ten Colombian rebel leaders after their group, the Colombian Liberation Army (ELN) claimed responsibility for bombing a police academy in Bogata, which killed 22 people. The State Department also noted Cuba continues to harbor Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.
President Donald Trump’s administration has previously rolled back Obama-era provisions brought as part of the process to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. The State Department currently lists dozens of U.S.-sanctioned Cuban business entities tied to Cuban military and intelligence agencies.
If Pompeo returns Cuba to the list of terror sponsors, it could complicate president-elect Joe Biden’s potential plans to expand on Obama-era efforts to normalize ties with Cuba.
In a March interview with Americas Quarterly, Biden said he would reverse Trump’s Cuba policies, which he said “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”
The Biden administration could reverse Pompeo’s decision on Cuba, but the move would require a formal review process that could take several months.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) called the proposal a “stunt” by Trump and his administration.
“He’s trying to put handcuffs on the incoming administration,” Meeks told the New York Times.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, who helped broker the administration’s normalization of ties with Cuba, also told the New York Times that the plan to list Cuba as a terror sponsor is “complete nonsense,” adding, “Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism.”