The new administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to reset U.S.-Cuba relations, but Trump’s move days before he leaves will make that more difficult.
The Trump administration will put Cuba back on the list of states that support terrorism on Monday, two senior State Department officials say, overturning an Obama-era decision and making it harder for President-elect Joe Biden to quickly revive relations diplomatic with Havana.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo should indicate that he is designating Cuba because the country continues to harbor American fugitives, including Joanne Chesimard, convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state soldier in 1973, and refuses a Colombian request for extradition of members of the National Liberation Army linked to a 2019 bombing that killed 22.
Cuba joins only Syria, Iran and North Korea – nations more widely condemned for promoting terrorism – on the US list. Cuba was originally put on the list in 1982, but was removed by President Barack Obama in 2015 as he sought to improve economic and diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation.
Biden has indicated he wants to revive the Obama-era policy of easing economic and travel restrictions in the hope that closer ties and more capitalism would pave the way for democratic change in Cuba. That strategy could include reducing restrictions on travel, investment, and remittances for the island nation, which are seen to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans.
Under President Donald Trump, the United States called Cuba a “Troika of Tyranny” along with Nicaragua and Venezuela. His moves have been popular with Cuban Americans in Florida, a state Trump won in his reelection bid with the help of Cuban-American refugees, Venezuelan-Americans, and other anti-Communist Latino voters.
His administration had been mulling over the decision to sponsor terrorism for months. Two senior State Department officials, who asked not to be identified in internal discussions, said politics played no role in the decision to re-designate Cuba and said several administrations – including that of ‘Obama – had made political decisions regarding the island at the end of their presidency.
Officials said it was a long process to get Cuba back on the list, and if the United States had wanted to play politics, it would have renamed Cuba before the presidential election in November, not after.
The administration had signaled in May that it could reinstate the designation of Cuba. It was at this point that officials announced that Cuba was back on a separate list of nations not fully cooperating with US counterterrorism efforts due to its refusal to extradite members of the National Liberation Army. .
According to the State Department, the states that sponsor terrorism are countries that have “repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism.” One of the officials said there is legal precedent dating back to the presidency of George HW Bush for keeping a country on the terrorist list even though it does not actively support terrorist acts.
Cuba and the United States, enemies after the late Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, established diplomatic relations in 2015 when Obama was president and Biden was vice president. The United States has relaxed a five-decade trade embargo and has taken further steps toward normalization, though ending U.S. restrictions completely would require act of Congress.
Despite nascent openings and increased foreign investment since the 1990s, the Cuban economy remains heavily controlled by the government and the military.
During Trump’s tenure, he opened the door to lawsuits against companies benefiting from government confiscated property in Cuba, banned educational trips and cruises there, and restricted direct flights. Biden could take steps to remove Cuba from the terrorist list, but a formal review could delay the process for several months and reignite the debate over Cuban Communist leadership.