The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the American government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, eliminating a major obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic relations after decades of hostilities.
The move had been a top priority with the Raul Castro-led Cuban government since diplomatic relations between the two countries were renewed back in December. Although critics like South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen note incidents like the 1996 shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue plane and the harboring of fugitive Joanne Chesimard as examples of why Cuba should not be removed from the list, the fact is that there are only three other nations other than Cuba on the list: Sudan, Syria and Iran.
“Cuban families, including many of our neighbors in the Tampa area, businesses and educators will benefit as both countries cast off outdated Cold War policies that limit interaction and progress on economic and human rights reform,” said Tampa Bay area Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who originally called for the removal of Cuba from the terrorist list in 2013, after visiting the communist island.
The biggest change from removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list would be financial.
Last year, the U.S. Justice Department fined the French bank BNP Paribas nearly $8.9 billion for handling currency for countries on the sanctions list.
“Cuba’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism has prevented our state universities from engaging in meaningful exchanges with their counterparts on the island and has created unnecessary banking hurdles for those traveling or doing business in Cuba,” Castor said. “Removing Cuba from the list will not only ease these burdens for Americans, it will, at a critical moment, strengthen the credibility of our policy against terrorism.”
“December 17 was a new day,” said Al Fox, the head of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, referring to the date that President Obama announced the diplomatic breakthrough with the Cuban government. “The train has left the station.”
Fox says that once the U.S. government officially clears Cuba off the list, they can participate with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and general banking in the U.S. “They’ll be treated like every other country, so that’s very significant.”
Cuba will not come off the list until after a 45-day review period, during which a joint resolution to block its removal could be considered in the House and Senate.
The news that Obama would remove Cuba from the terrorist list is not a surprise, as some thought it might occur last weekend during the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama met up with Castro, the first formal meeting between the two heads of the two nations in over 50 years.
In anticipation, U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen released a statement calling the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors list “nothing short of a miscarriage of justice borne out of political motivations not rooted in reality.”
“It would be a miscarriage of justice for the 11 million Cubans on the island suffering under the oppressive Castro regime and a miscarriage of justice for the millions of Cubans who risked their lives to flee the island with the hopes of one day returning to a free and democratic Cuba,” she said.
Castor says that “Cuba is changing. America’s new policy of engagement is intended to empower the Cuban people and encourage the Cuban government to go further and faster. Our neighbors here in Tampa can visit and better support their families on the island due to the reforms. Cubans now have a greater ability to visit their relatives in the United States as well. Small businesses, the tourism industry and Tampa International Airport also have seen a boost in jobs and economic opportunities and are poised to take further advantage of broadening travel and trade to the island nation.”
Al Fox says U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s challenges won’t go anywhere. “She’s on the wrong side of history,” he says.
“Well, the decision made by the White House today is a terrible one, but not surprising, unfortunately,” responded Florida U.S. senator and now presidential candidate Marco Rubio. “Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. They harbor fugitives of American justice, including someone who killed a police officer in New Jersey over 30 years ago. It’s also the country that’s helping North Korea evade weapons sanctions by the United Nations. They should have remained on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and I think sends a chilling message to our enemies abroad that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”