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US designates Cuba as state terror sponsor

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Photo by Olivier Douliery/ABACAPRESS.COM/TNS)
January 11, 2021

On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced it is reinstating Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, overturning a 2015 Obama administration decision to remove the terrorism label placed on Cuba since 1982.

In a statement provided to American Military News, Pompeo said, “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”

The State Department’s decision would place Cuba among a list of three other state terrorism sponsors, including Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

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. Pompeo said Monday’s designation subjects Cuba to those same restrictions.

Under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism for supporting left-wing insurgents from Colombia. Prior to removing the terrorist sponsor designation, President Barack Obama’s administration identified Cuba as a “safe haven” for Basque separatists and Columbian insurgents. In May of 2015, after it concluded that both groups posed a minimal continued terrorism threat, the Obama administration removed the terrorism designation against Cuba.

In his Monday statement announcing the move to return Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, Pompeo cited the country’s continued harboring of ELN insurgents.

“For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.  Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, traveled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017,” Pompeo wrote. “Citing peace negotiation protocols, Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.”

Pompeo also cited Cuba’s continued harboring of several U.S. fugitives from justice as part of the decision on Cuba’s terrorism designation.

“The Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List for executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973; Ishmael LaBeet, convicted of killing eight people in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972; Charles Lee Hill, charged with killing New Mexico state policeman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971; and others,” Pompeo wrote.

Pompeo said another reason for designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism is its non-compliance with the Arms Export Control Act. Pompeo said Cuba made a commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal from the U.S. list of terror sponsors in 2015.

“In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for today’s action, the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region,” Pompeo added. “The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate.  The Cuban government’s support for [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC)] dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”

The decision to add Cuba to the list of terror sponsors 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.

The move to designate Cuba as a state terror sponsor comes a day after Pompeo announced his intent to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement, also known as Ansarallah, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Pompeo described Ansarallah as a “deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region.”