In one of the final acts of his presidency in January 2021, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that again placed Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT) list without any justification. President Barak Obama removed the Caribbean island from the list in 2015 following a thorough review by the Departments of State and Defense. Presence on the list makes it very difficult for Cuba to purchase needed supplies as it seeks to recover its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic causing undue hardships to the Cuban people. Cuba’s removal from the list in 2015 did not end the 60-year U.S. blockade of the island, though it made it easier for it to participate in the global capitalist marketplace with some positive economic results.
The State Sponsors of Terrorism list has always been a hypocritical instrument of U.S. foreign policy used to punish those who U.S. rulers regard as adversaries while overlooking its own misdeeds and those of its allies. Actions of U.S. intelligence agencies like the torture of prisoners following the events of 9/11 continue to be overlooked as well as the genocidal actions of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
The presence of Cuba on the list is particularly outrageous because it has been a victim of terrorist acts over the past 60 years, not a perpetrator of them. It is well documented that in the 1960s following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. government carried out many acts of sabotage in Cuba, including the 1961 invasion at the Bay of Pigs and numerous failed assassination attempts on the life of Fidel Castro. Later, in 1976 a Cuban commercial airliner was bombed in Barbados and the perpetrators eventually found exile in the United States. In 1994 when Cuba was reinserting itself into the world capitalist economy through tourism after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., hotel bombings were carried out in Havana by persons operating from the United States, and the U.S. government refused to cooperate in efforts to bring them to justice. Beyond being a victim of terrorism, Cuba has gone out of its way to speak out against terrorism and expressed solidarity with the people of the United States following the events of 9/11. During the Obama administration the Cuban and U.S. governments began joint law enforcement operations, including in the field of anti-terrorism. The Trump administration unilaterally ended that cooperation, but Cuba has remained committed to the cooperation if the U.S. side is willing.
President Biden has the executive authority to remove Cuba from the SSOT and as a candidate, he promised to review Cuba’s status but two years into his presidency no such review has occurred, and Cuba remains unjustly on the list. A campaign of U.S. civil society organizations, members of Congress, and local government bodies are engaging in a campaign to pressure the Biden administration to reverse course on the issue. In 2021 the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a Cuba resolution that included a call for Cuba’s removal from the SSOT.
Dr. Gary Prevost is a professor emeritus of Political Science and Latin American Studies at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, a member of the Minnesota Cuba Committee and co-author of “Cuba-U.S. Relations- A Critical History.”