Congressional Oversight Needed as Obama Administration Moves to Remove
Cuba from State Sponsors of Terrorism List
By Ana Quintana
The Obama Administration has recently chosen to normalize relations with
Cuba. In addition to establishing embassies and expanding commercial
transactions, the White House has also declared that Cuba will be
removed from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
To remove Cuba from the list would be to ignore both the Cuban
government's inherently malicious nature and the utility of terrorist
designations. For over three decades, the Castro regime has directly
supported organizations designated by the U.S. government as terrorist.
Recent activities that warrant Cuba's place on the list include Havana's
violations of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions,
leadership role in directing Venezuela's military and intelligence, and
steadfast support and intimate relationship with such countries as
Syria, Iran, and North Korea. The Castro regime also continues to harbor
U.S. fugitives and subsidize their livelihoods. One fugitive has been on
the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list since 2013 for killing a New
Jersey State Trooper.
Removing Cuba from the list would also remove restrictions that preclude
their receipt preferential foreign aid and trade benefits. Repealing the
designation combined with further weakening of sanctions will not bode
well for U.S. taxpayers. The regime routinely defaults on foreign loans
and is guilty of the largest uncompensated theft of U.S. assets in
recorded history, valued at $7 billion. Congress cannot ignore the
implications of an undeserving regime's being removed from this list.
Why the Castro Regime Cannot Be Trusted
President Obama's new Cuba policy has been heavily criticized and
rightfully so. His predecessors, both Republican and Democrat,
recognized that a Cuba governed by the Castro regime will never be
receptive to genuine engagement.
Previous unilateral attempts by the Carter and Clinton Administrations
to reduce hostilities ended up backfiring on the U.S. In 1977, President
Carter reestablished diplomatic relations by allowing each country
reciprocal interest sections. The government in Havana responded shortly
thereafter by sending expeditionary forces and resources to Marxist
insurgencies in over a dozen African countries. The Clinton
Administration for years attempted to improve relations and was rewarded
by the Castro regime's shooting down of Brothers to the Rescue flights.
In what the U.S. determined to be an international act of terrorism, the
Cuban military, at the order of current leader Raul Castro, shot down
two American aircraft over international waters, killing three American
citizens and one U.S. resident.
According to the State Department's annual terrorism report, the
government in Havana continues to support the terrorist Colombia's
Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). While the FARC have been weakened,
it is premature to assume that they have been defeated. Throughout the
past two years of peace talks in Havana, the FARC has continued to
kidnap and kill Colombian civilians and military alike. FARC strongholds
still exist throughout the country, and it is widely known that they
have sanctuary just across the border in Venezuela. Considering that the
FARC has relationships with Islamist terrorist organizations, has
murdered a quarter-million Colombians, and has established drug
trafficking networks spanning the globe, the threat that it poses is
Most recently in July of 2013, Havana was found to have violated UNSC
arms trafficking resolutions 1718, 1874, and 2094. Panamanian
authorities seized a North Korean freighter for attempting to transport
missiles and fighter planes through the Panama Canal concealed under
sacks of sugar.
Cuba walked away unscathed, despite being the first country in the
Western Hemisphere to violate these resolutions. It should be noted that
the State Department's 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism made no mention
of the incident despite its release date of April 2014.
Cuba's Removal Would Violate the Law and Potentially Endanger U.S. Taxpayers
According to Section 6 of the Export Administration Act (EAA), the law
by which Cuba was added to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, the
country can be removed from the list only if:
(A) (i) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and
policies of the government of the country concerned;
(ii) that government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and
(iii) that government has provided assurances that it will not support
acts of international terrorism in the future; or
(B) (i) the government concerned has not provided any support for
international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and
(ii) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not
support acts of international terrorism in the future.
It is easy to deduce that Cuba fails to meet the requirements of both
sections. Cuba's leadership has not changed, nor has its political
system. In spite of its new relationship with the U.S., Cuba's leader
Raul Castro claims the government will not democratize. While Cuba's
financial circumstances have curbed its ability to support international
terrorism, its alliances with Syria, Iran, and North Korea should remain
a source of concern. It is also unlikely that the U.S. could ever
receive genuine guarantees against future actions, as recent talks in
Havana proved. Cuba's top diplomat stated: "Change in Cuba isn't
Terrorism designations as determined by the EAA are a critical
instrument in foreign policy, as they carry restrictions on U.S. foreign
aid, commercial transactions, and participation in international
Even though these restrictions and others are further reinforced by the
Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, a law
which strengthened the Cuban embargo, the Obama Administration is
systematically chipping away at the embargo until it becomes obsolete.
For example, the Administration recently expanded the allowable
exceptions on Cuban imports from the U.S. Items such as building
materials are now classified as agricultural products. It can be argued
that this new regulation is a violation of the law as Castro's military
controls much of Cuba's agricultural sector.
Congress Cannot Ignore the Dangerous Implications
While terrorist designations fall under presidential powers, Congress
can and should remain vigilant with respect to the White House's
dangerous rapprochements. The ultimate focus should be on promoting
policies that protect U.S. national security while simultaneously
promoting U.S. values such as freedom and democracy.
More specifically, Congress should:
-Urge the President to condition all future U.S. agreements with the
Cuban government upon significant, meaningful, and measurable changes.
The President's new Cuba policy has gone against the principle of
existing U.S. law by not requiring the Cuban government to modify its
behavior one iota in exchange for a loosening of restrictions. Many are
quick to point out that the regime released 53 political prisoners in
January, but that proved to be mistaken. Many of the prisoners either
had already been released or were close to being set free. They were
also subsequently put under strict house arrest or arrested shortly
afterwards for political reasons. In the 18 months the White House was
secretly negotiating with the regime, there were over 13,000 political
arrests on the island. Arrests in 2014 represented a 40 percent increase
from the preceding year. The White House has yet to impose any serious
conditions on Cuba.
- Continue to support Cuba's democratic opposition and human rights
activists. Congress must make sure that U.S. policy continues to support
civil society groups on the island that uphold U.S. values and are
unaffiliated with the Castro regime and its Communist ideology. The
Cuban government is strongly against Washington's support for dissidents
and is painting it as an obstacle to the President's much-wanted embassy
in Havana. Congress has must continue its active support for these
- Ensure that current and future funding from the U.S. Agency for
International Development and State Department does not support the
Cuban government or military. While these groups have generally been
prohibited from receiving U.S. assistance, the Cuban government is
pushing the Obama Administration to fund its regime-sponsored Communist
groups. Members of Congress hold the purse strings, and prohibiting the
funding of these groups falls to them.
- Reject policies that support financing for U.S. exports. Business
interests have been leading the movement against the Cuban embargo, and
the President's new policy has emboldened them. Recently, the U.S
Agricultural Coalition for Cuba was launched. Backed by large
corporations such as Cargill, the coalition is lobbying to end the
embargo in order to receive U.S. taxpayer subsidies for exports to Cuba.
Business interests should not be allowed to dictate foreign policy.
- Keep the Focus on Cuba. Congress must stay vigilant with respect to
the President's naïve approach to the Castro regime. President Obama has
granted an undeserving dictatorship the prestige of being allowed an
embassy and an ambassador in the U.S. He continues to refer to Cuba's
leader and unelected dictator, Raul Castro, as president. The next move
appears to be removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
Terrorism designation is not only about what the country is currently
doing, but also about the potential for future malicious actions.
Removing Cuba from the terrorist list is much more than a symbolic
gesture. It carries far-reaching implications that can endanger U.S.
national security interests.
—Ana Quintana is a Research Associate for Latin America in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and
Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.
Source: Cuba, Latin America, Alan Gross, Fidel Castro -