The Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States House of Representatives, in charge of international legislation, this Tuesday gave its support to a bill to prevent the government of its country from normalizing relations with Cuba “until democracy is restored on the island.”
The bill, promoted by Republican congresswoman María Elvira Salazar, from Florida, calls for prohibiting the administration, in the present and in the future, from removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism while “free and fair elections” are not held in Cuba, among other conditions.
El Comité de Relaciones Exteriores aprobó el proyecto de ley FORCE, de la Congresista @MaElviraSalazar, que busca impedir a cualquier presidente de EEUU quitar al régimen cubano de la lista de países patrocinadores de terrorismo, "hasta que no sea una democracia constitucional". pic.twitter.com/1SRijMTNBF
— Americano Media (@AmericanoMedia) March 28, 2023
The legislation was also introduced in the U.S. Senate by Republican lawmakers Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
Its approval in the House Foreign Affairs Committee was done with bipartisan support, Congresswoman Salazar’s office said in a statement.
In addition to demanding the holding of what the sponsors consider transparent elections, the law would make it a requirement for the normalization of relations that the Cuban authorities release all political prisoners and allow international human rights organizations to carry out investigations in Cuban prisons.
According to a report by Radio Televisión Martí, Republican Michael McCaul, chairman of this Senate Committee, said that in addition to harboring terrorists from Latin America, Cuba is allied with the adversaries of the United States, including Russia and China. He added that the Cuban government remains in unison with these evil actors who seek to upset the global balance of power, and Cuba continues to support Venezuela’s brutal dictatorship.
In another sense, Democrat Gregory Meeks, a high-ranking member of the Committee, declared that not being a democracy is not a criterion to remain on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
If the legislative path that the bill must still follow is successful, President Biden would practically have his hands tied if he wanted to start a path of normalization with Cuba, since the prerogative for this would fall to Congress.
Last Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken ruled out removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism for now, which it was included again by Donald Trump (2017-2021) during the final days of his term in office.
Blinken says there are no plans to remove Cuba from list of sponsors of terrorism
In the same Committee on Foreign Relations of the House of Representatives, the secretary of state responded that the administration does not plan to “remove them from the list.” This is how he asserted after questions made to him, precisely by Congresswoman Salazar, during a hearing.
Cuba was included on that list for the first time in 1982 during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, who cited support for groups in Latin America classified as terrorists by the United States government.
In May 2015, during the term of President Barack Obama (2009-2017), this position was reconsidered as part of the “thaw” in relations between the two nations.
But in January 2021, Trump included Cuba on the list again, allegedly for rejecting Colombia’s extradition request for members of the ELN, who claimed responsibility for a 2019 car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogotá, and for harboring American exiles.
Among other consequences, the presence of Cuba on the list of sponsors of terrorism results in limitations for everything related to humanitarian aid, business, investment, trade and transactions that involve the participation of the country, causing damage to its citizens, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
In addition, Cubans with foreign citizenship or residents in the European Union have been denied or canceled the benefits of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to the United States, and something similar has happened with their bank accounts as they are considered, due to their nationality, “high risk” customers.
The selective inclusion in the list has also created additional difficulties for the Cuban government in accessing financing. Many banks, fearful of being accused of instigating terrorism and of the large fines that an infraction entails, “refuse to process Cuban payments and have frozen funds for permitted religious and humanitarian activities, which require an additional license,” the WOLA report highlighted.
“The designation of a country as a state sponsor of terrorism should depend on whether that country is actually sponsoring terrorism, as defined in the law that created the terrorism list, not on whether a country meets the many political and economic conditions of the 1996 Cuban Freedom Act and the Democratic Solidarity Act. Otherwise, the terrorism list makes no sense,” William LeoGrande, a professor at the American University and an expert on Cuba-United States relations, told OnCuba.
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