US Removes Cuba from List of Countries ‘Not Cooperating Fully’ with Anti-Terrorism Efforts

by Braxton Taylor

In a policy step to ease pressure on Cuba, the Biden administration removed the communist island from the roster of countries “not cooperating fully” with anti-terrorist efforts, a list the U.S. State Department issues every year.

According to the certification sent to Congress by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, the State Department determined that “the circumstances for Cuba’s certification as a ‘not fully cooperating country’ have changed from 2022 to 2023,” and that the department is no longer keeping Cuba on that list.

A State Department spokesperson said Cuba’s “refusal to engage” with Colombia on extradition requests for National Liberation Army guerrilla members who were in Havana for peace talks “supported” Cuba’s certification in 2022. But in August 2022, Colombian President Gustavo Petro ordered Colombia’s Attorney General to suspend the arrest warrants against 17 ELN commanders, including those in Cuba.

“Moreover, the United States and Cuba resumed law enforcement cooperation in 2023, including on counterterrorism,” the spokesperson said. “Therefore, the Department determined that Cuba’s continued certification as a ‘not fully cooperating country’ was no longer appropriate.”

The State Department said that four countries — North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela — were certified as “not fully cooperating” in 2023.

Cuba remains on a separate, more important list of state sponsors of terrorism — also kept by the State Department — since the Trump administration included it in 2021.

In the notice sent Wednesday to Congress, the State Department said that the designation of state sponsors of terrorism “is wholly separate” from the certification process of countries seen as not cooperating enough with U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

“U.S. law establishes specific statutory criteria for rescinding” a state sponsor of terrorism designation, the notice said. Any review of Cuba’s status on that list “would be based on the law and the criteria established by Congress.”

A section of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act was amended in 1996 to give authority to the secretary of state to determine which countries are not doing enough to cooperate with the United States in preventing terrorism. The U.S. cannot sell or license defense equipment or services to those countries. The section is one of the four laws used by the secretary of state to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as state sponsors of terrorism, according to the Department’s website.

The immediate effects of removing Cuba from the annual list of those not cooperating on counterterrorism are unclear. The United States does not sell weapons to Cuba anyway because the U.S. embargo prohibits it, and the country is still officially considered a sponsor of terrorism.

The removal comes after the Cuban government has signaled it is not willing to take a first step to improve relations with the United States, including releasing any of about 1,000 political prisoners it is currently holding, if the Biden administration does not remove Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism first.

In a long interview published Monday on Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel made that position explicit.

“We do not ask for favors, nor do we have to make any gesture to have the blockade removed; it is simply a right of the Cuban people,” he said.

In the interview with Spanish left-leaning journalist and activist Ignacio Ramonet, Diaz-Canel denied there has been a crackdown on people criticizing his government (“protesting against the Revolution is not met with a repressive response”) despite the number of people Cuba has detained and convicted for protesting, and did not take responsibility for the severe economic crisis Cubans have endured under his watch, blaming instead U.S. sanctions and Cuba’s designation as a sponsor of terrorism for the debacle.

Reactions in Miami

Despite the State Department’s assurances, Cuban-American members of Congress from Miami immediately criticized Cuba’s removal from the “not fully cooperating” list, fearing it might be a first step towards a potential delisting of the island as a sponsor of terror.

“This latest move is, without a doubt, another sign that the Biden Administration is paving the way to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terror,” said Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“How is it possible that a dictatorship that finances terrorism in Latin America, supports Hamas and harbors international terrorists in its territory ‘cooperates’ with the United States on anti-terrorism?” Salazar said in a statement. Cuba has provided asylum to several fugitives of U.S. justice it deems as political refugees, an issue that has been an obstacle to better relations.

“The White House is either being naive or is actively complicit with the Castro/Díaz-Canel regime,” Salazar said.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he has already reached out to the State Department to get answers about this “absurd move.”

“President Biden is making it abundantly clear he wants to remove the Cuban dictatorship from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The criminal and illegitimate regime in Havana supports foreign terrorist organizations in Colombia, and harbors ETA terrorists and fugitives wanted by American courts.”

In a posting on X, Rep. Carlos Giménez of Miami used capital letters to say that Cuba “must remain” on the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

“The dictatorship supports Hamas, Hezbollah, Putin’s illegal invasion of Russia, repression in Venezuela and Nicaragua,” he said. “They should be treated like the outcasts they are!”

© 2024 Miami Herald.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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