Cubans hail re­moval from US list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY MICHAEL WEIS­SENSTEIN AND ANNE-MARIE GARCIA

Cuban of­fi­cials and or­di­nary cit­i­zens alike hailed the is­land’s re­moval from the U. S. list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism, say­ing the move by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama heals a decades­old in­sult to na­tional pride and clears the way to swiftly re­store diplo­matic re­la­tions.

“The Cuban gov­ern­ment rec­og­nizes the pres­i­dent of the United States’ just de­ci­sion to take Cuba off a list in which it should never have been in­cluded,” Jose­fina Vi­dal, Cuba’s top diplo­mat for U. S. af­fairs, said Tues­day night.

Cuban and U. S. for­eign- pol­icy ex­perts said the two gov­ern­ments ap­peared to have taken a ma­jor leap to­ward the re­open­ing of em­bassies in Ha­vana and Wash­ing­ton af­ter four months of com­plex and oc­ca­sion­ally frus­trat­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“This is im­por­tant be­cause it speaks to Obama’s de­sire to keep mov­ing for­ward,” said Este­ban Mo­rales, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Ha­vana. “Now there are no po­lit­i­cal ob­sta­cles. What re­mains are or­ga­ni­za­tional and tech­ni­cal prob­lems, which can be re­solved.”

In a mes­sage to Congress, Obama said Tues­day that Cuba’s gov­ern­ment “has not pro­vided any sup­port for in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism” over the last six months and has given “as­sur­ances that it will not sup­port acts of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism in the fu­ture.”

Cuba will of­fi­cially be re­moved from the ter­ror­ism list 45 days af­ter the pres­i­dent’s mes­sage was sent to Congress. Law­mak­ers could vote to block the move dur­ing that win­dow, though Obama would be all but cer­tain to veto such a mea­sure.

What re­mains to be seen in com­ing weeks is whether Cuba will al­low U. S. diplo­mats to move around Cuba and main­tain con­tacts with cit­i­zens in­clud­ing dis­si­dents, the sec­ond point of con­tention in the ne­go­ti­a­tions on restor­ing full diplo­matic re­la­tions.

Cuba is highly sen­si­tive to any in­di­ca­tion the U. S. is sup­port­ing do­mes­tic dis­sent and that is­sue may prove con­sid­er­ably tougher than amend­ing the ter­ror­ism list. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion made lit­tle pre­tense in re­cent years that it be­lieved Cuba was sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism.

Cuba was put on the list in 1982 be­cause of what the U. S. said were its ef­forts “to pro­mote armed revo­lu­tion by or­ga­ni­za­tions that used ter­ror­ism.”

That in­cluded sup­port for left­ist guer­rilla groups in­clud­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia and the Basque sep­a­ratist move­ment ETA in Spain. Cuba also shel­tered black and Puerto Ri­can mil­i­tants who car­ried out at­tacks in the United States. Among those was Joanne Ch­es­i­mard, who was granted asy­lum by Fidel Cas­tro af­ter she es­caped from a U. S. pri­son where she was serv­ing a sen­tence for killing a New Jer­sey state trooper in 1973.

Cuba re­nounced di­rect sup­port for mil­i­tant groups years ago and is spon­sor­ing peace talks be­tween the FARC and Colom­bia’s gov­ern­ment. Spain no longer ap­pears to be ac­tively seek­ing the re­turn of in­ac­tive ETA mem­bers who may be in Cuba.

For Cubans, the ter­ror­ism list was a par­tic­u­larly charged is­sue be­cause of the U. S. his­tory of sup­port­ing ex­ile groups re­spon­si­ble for at­tacks on the is­land, in­clud­ing the 1976 bomb­ing of a Cuban pas­sen­ger flight from Bar­ba­dos that killed 73 peo­ple aboard. The attack was linked to Cuban ex­iles with ties to U. S.backed anti-Cas­tro groups, and both men ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the crime took shel­ter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada Car­riles, lives to this day.

“It’s re­ally good that they fi­nally took us off the list even though the re­al­ity is that we never should have been there,” said Rigob­erto More­jon, a mem- ber of the Cuban na­tional fenc­ing team who lost three train­ing part­ners in the bomb­ing. He added that the hoped “we can keep ad­vanc­ing in the re- estab­lish­ment of re­la­tions.”

Be­yond the emo­tional im­pact, the ter­ror­ism list hob­bled Cuba’s abil­ity to do busi­ness in­ter­na­tion­ally.

A 1996 law that strips sovereign im­mu­nity from na­tions on the list that en­gage in ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings ex­posed Cuba to huge judg­ments in U. S. courts when mainly Cuban- Amer­i­can fam­i­lies ac­cused the Cuban gov­ern­ment of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the deaths of loved ones, said Robert Muse, a Wash­ing­ton- based lawyer who spe­cial­izes in U. S. law on Cuba.

The per­ceived and real risks of do­ing busi­ness with a coun­try on the list also made it highly dif­fi­cult for Cuba to do busi­ness with for­eign banks. The Cuban In­ter­ests Sec­tion in Wash­ing­ton has been forced to deal in cash since it lost its bank in the U. S. last year. The abil­ity to re­open a U. S. bank ac­count is one of Cuba’s most ur­gent de­mands in the ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­open em­bassies. While that de­ci­sion falls to in­di­vid­ual banks, re­moval from the list will make it eas­ier.

The list­ing also pre­vented U. S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the World Bank and other global fi­nan­cial bod­ies from ap­prov­ing credit for Cuba, which is in­creas­ingly strapped for cash.

Obama’s de­ci­sion was wel­comed on the streets of Ha­vana.

“Fi­nally!” said Mercedes Del­gado, a re­tired ac­coun­tant. “The door’s opened a lit­tle more. That’s al­ways good.”

AP

A ven­dor gives a thumbs up to the cam­era as he sells shoes and paint­ings of Cuba’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary hero Ernesto “Che” Gue­vara in Ha­vana, Tues­day, April 14.

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