Take Cuba Off The Terrorist List

Twenty-five years after the State Department first listed identified it as a state sponsor of terrorism, Cuba remains on the infamous list, despite no supporting evidence.

The author was a U.S. diplomat and specialist in Cuban affairs for roughly 25 years, leaving the Foreign Service in 1982, when he was Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, because of his disagreements over Cuba policy. He has been an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University since 1984 and a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC since 1992.

Cuba was placed on the list of terrorist nations in March of 1982 with little in the way of explanation. Twenty-five years later, the State Department's reasons for keeping it there are totally unconvincing. It is not involved in any terrorist activities that the State Department can point to. It does not endorse terrorism, as the State Department says it does. On the contrary, it has condemned it in all its manifestations, has signed all twelve UN anti-terrorist resolutions and offered to sign agreements with the United States to cooperate in combating terrorism-an offer the Bush Administration ignores.

There are American fugitives in Cuba, yes, but even under our own legislation, this does not constitute grounds for declaring Cuba to be a terrorist state. And if Cuba does not regularly extradite those fleeing from American justice, the United States has not in more than 47 years extradited a single Cuban-including infamous terrorists such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles.

In sum, there is simply no credible evidence that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. The central question we should be asking is how can U.S. interests possibly be served by putting forward these spurious allegations and insisting that it is a terrorist state when it obviously is not, and by rebuffing its offers to cooperate in the struggle against terrorism? Does this not undermine our own credibility and cast doubt on our seriousness of purpose? Surely it is time to put an end to this dishonest and counterproductive policy. Congress should take the first step by holding hearings to examine the rationale and evidence-if any exists-behind this policy and to call for a new, more constructive approach.

Alleged Reasons for Placing Cuba on the List in the First Place

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) memorandum dated November 7, 2003, a copy of which Center for International Policy (CIP) has obtained, indicates that no explanation was given for Cuba's inclusion on the list in 1982. According to the CRS memo, however, a State Department paper from a month before Cuba was placed on the list asserted that Cuba was encouraging terrorism and was especially active in El Salvador and Guatemala. Clearly, this must have been part of the rationale for placing it on the list. And yet, if Cuba's support for guerrillas trying to overthrow an established government in El Salvador-or Guatemala-was enough to label it "a terrorist state", then the United States would have qualified as a terrorist state also, given that it was in the midst of supporting the Contras in their efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

Further, as I reported in my book, The Closest of Enemies, on April 19, a month after Cuba was placed on the list, the Reagan administration re-imposed restrictions on travel to the island (in the form of currency controls) and imposed various other sanctions against Cuba. The reasons it gave for these actions were 1) because "Cuba . . . is increasing its support for violence in the hemisphere" and 2) because Cuba refused to negotiate our foreign policy disagreements.

But as I pointed out in the book, in December of 1981, I had been informed by a high-ranking Cuban official that Cuba had suspended all arms shipments to Central America and that it hoped this major concession on its part would improve the atmosphere for negotiations, not only in Central America but between our two countries. This was almost certainly meant to be a response to a statement by Secretary of State Al Haig, who in a conversation with Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in Mexico the month before, had stated, in response to the Cuban's indications of an interest in dialogue, that the United States wanted not words but changes in Cuban policies. Here was a major change.

I reported this December conversation to the Department of State, asking if we had any hard evidence to the contrary-for example, that Cuba was continuing to ship arms to Central America. If not, I recommended that the United States begin a dialogue.

I had to follow up with a number of cables, insisting on an answer. I finally got one in March, acknowledging that the United States did not have hard evidence of continuing Cuban arms shipments to Central America, but that it did not matter. In other words, the United States was not interested in dialogue. Where, then, was the evidence of "increasing support for violence"?

Cuba that was seeking negotiations-or dialogue-and the United States was rebuffing those overtures, not the other way around, as the State Department suggested. This outright misrepresentation of the facts to the American people was one of the factors which caused me to leave the Foreign Service shortly thereafter.

Bogus Reasons for Keeping Cuba on the List

After 25 years, Cuba remains on the State Department's annual list of state sponsors of terrorism for reasons that do not withstand the most perfunctory examination. There is, for example, the oft-repeated charge that Cuba endorses terrorism as a tactic. Former Undersecretary of State John Bolton, for one, claimed in March of 2004 that Fidel Castro "continues to view terror as a legitimate tactic to further revolutionary objectives."

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