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Remove Cuba from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

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Last week, the Latin America Working Group partnered with the Center for International Policy to host a conference examining Cuba’s placement on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Along with Mavis Anderson from LAWG, speakers included renowned Cuba experts Wayne Smith (Center for International Policy), Robert Muse (Muse and Associates), Carlos Alzugaray (University of Havana), Sarah Stephens (Center for Democracy in the Americas), and Arturo Lopez-Levy (University of Denver). Each panelist spoke critically of this designation, which has served to hurt Cubans rather than affect political changes in Cuba, or combat real terrorist threats.

“Cuba’s inclusion on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism without any evidence is a sham that needs immediate correction. It is a misuse of this list as a foreign policy tool and places obstacles in the way of the development of a sane and post-Cold War policy toward Cuba,” said Mavis Anderson. Cuba was put on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism on March 1st, 1982, and remains there with only three other countries: Iran, Sudan, and Syria. In contrast, North Korea, a country with one of the lowest-ranking human rights records in the world, was removed from the list in October 2008. And Libya, under Col. Gadaffi, was removed on May 15th, 2006.

The panelists provided historical context of this designation and discussed its economic and political consequences. For instance, by being on this list, hardliners in Congress have blocked various positive policy changes under the rubric that the law states the United States cannot engage with state sponsors of terror. Moreover, many Cuban exiles are able to make spurious legal claims against Cuba simply because it is on the terror list. “Officially labeling Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism means that the U.S. government can take hold of Cuban assets to meet alleged compensation demands,” said Bob Muse. In 2007 alone, there were four judgments that totaled $850 million and with Cuba designated on the terror list, more cases will “continue to roll in,” said Muse.

With the arrest of Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for the past two years after bringing illegal communications equipment to the island, it is more important now than ever before to remove Cuba from this list—to remove the excuses for U.S.’s inability to negotiate Mr. Gross’ release. By removing Cuba from this list, the United States could explore many new avenues of discussion with Cuba.

Although removing this designation won’t be easy, it is certainly necessary. As Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas aptly put it, “We should no longer allow this untruth to be the foundation stone for blocking reforms and changing U.S. policy toward Cuba.”  To read the presentations of the panelists, click here .