Cuba Could Be Removed From the List of Places That Sponsor Terrorism

The U.S. has considered Cuba a sponsor of terrorism since 1982. On Tuesday, President Obama announced plans to change that designation.

Phil Clarke Hill

Since 1982, Cuba has been on the official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. And, recently, even as relations between the two countries have become more open and Cuba has become more connected to the rest of the world, that's been sticking point. But on Tuesday, President Obama announced that he will remove Cuba from the list—a key step in the longer term process of normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba.

In the 1980s, Latin America was riddled with violent insurgencies driven by Marxist ideologies, and the Castro regime provided sanctuary to a number of terrorists associated with those attacks. That's what prompted the U.S. to put Cuba on the terrorism list to begin with. Cuba was providing insurgents sanctuary, not arms: Cuba’s placement on the list was more about politics than American safety.

Those insurgents included members of members of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). But, as Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, “Our hemisphere, and the world, looks very different today than they did 33 years ago.” The latest U.S. report on terrorism in Cuba, from 2013, reports that "Cuba’s ties to the ETA have become more distant" and that “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

Cuba’s placement on state sponsors of terrorism list (a different and much shorter one than the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations) has made it difficult for the country to access foreign markets, though. The New York Times reports:

Cuban officials have said they would find it hard to move forward with diplomatic relations while remaining on the list, which they see as a blemish to their nation’s image and a scarlet letter that has blocked Cuba from doing business with American banks and led some international institutions to shy away from opportunities to work with Cuba.

Not even Cuba’s interests section in Washington, the outpost that performs some functions of an embassy, could get a bank account as financial institutions worried about violating sanctions from the Treasury Department over doing business with a state on the terrorism list and running afoul of the trade embargo.

Cuba will remain on the list for at least another 45 days, during which the plan will be reviewed. There is also the possibility that, during this window, the House and Senate could form a joint resolution to block the removal. 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.