Unfortunately, the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, encouraged by the chief inciter, will not be the latest nonsense from an administration the United States is desperate to end. Trump insists on causing as much damage as possible to America’s interests and values. He not only sabotages an orderly transition but insists on torpedoing the mandate of the American people to the incoming administration. On Monday, the Trump administration began with the inclusion of Cuba in the list of terrorist countries with no cause at all, on Tuesday Trump will celebrate the alleged completion of the wall on the border with Mexico (which by the way Mexico never paid). No one knows the price that the United States will have to pay for the next irresponsibility of Trump and his sycophants.
Few accomplices in that disaster emulate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In December, Pompeo announced that the presidential transition in January would be “to the second term of the Trump administration.” The dream of the coronation turned into a nightmare. On January 20, 2021, Pompeo will step out of Foggy Bottom as the last of the cabinet members devoid of the slightest shame to resign. After the insurrection against Congress, a branch of which he himself was a part, Pompeo is trying to compensate for his lack of courage with a burst of torpedoes against policies announced by the president-elect and vice president-elect. Both Biden and Harris have clarified that they see the policy of President Obama in recent years as the most appropriate to act with the dignity of a democratic power in relations with Cuba and the interaction on Cuba with other states of the international community.
Cuba’s inclusion on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism is a distraction that attempts to commit U.S. resources against a threat that doesn’t exist. Such irresponsibility has the collateral effect of discrediting a U.S. foreign policy instrument that could be useful in pointing out some states to the international community for collaborating with terrorism. Who can believe in the seriousness of this list when the arguments to include Cuba could not be more prosaic?
An inclusion that weakens the fight against terrorism
The “argument” that Cuba is an ally of the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela to classify Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism lacks any basis. The Maduro government is sitting in the United Nations and it is most likely that in the coming months it will be recognized again by the European Union, which has already categorized Juan Guaidó as the “outgoing” president of the National Assembly. If the State Department wants to make a list of allied countries of Venezuela, it can start with Russia, China and others. If what it wants is a list of countries hated by right-wing exiles in South Florida, then call them by that name. The policy against terrorism is not the appropriate space as therapy to discharge trauma.
Pompeo’s second pretext to bring Cuba back to the list is that Cuba did not extradite to Colombia ten leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN) who were in Havana as part of the dialogue between that guerrilla group and the Colombian government. Norway, an ally of the United States in NATO, and a co-companion with Cuba in the peace talks, has reiterated that the security guarantees for the guerrillas were part of the negotiation protocol adopted by the mediators with the consent of the Colombian government. Not only has Cuba not committed or supported any act of international terrorism according to the database on the subject collected by the national consortium for the study of terrorism and responses to terrorism (Start), Cuba contributed to the peace process in Colombia like no other state.
If instead of blocking Cuba, the Trump administration had continued President Obama’s policy of interaction, which included the presence of Bernie Aronson, former Under Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs under President Bush (1989-1993) as the U.S. representative, perhaps today, the dialogue sponsored by Norway between the government and the Venezuelan opposition would have advanced with the support of allies of the parties in conflict. The same could be said of the dialogue between the ELN and the Colombian government that sooner or later will have to be resumed as the optimal way to demobilize this guerrilla and the FARC dissidents who remain in arms in Colombian territory.
The problem of extraditions between Cuba and the United States
The third “reason” argued by Pompeo refers to the fact that Cuba has not extradited a group of those persecuted by U.S. justice for terrorist actions against the U.S. authorities. As part of the cold war, Cuba and the United States gave refuge to people who shared their political positions in tune with the visions and the confrontations of the time. The governments of Barack Obama and Raúl Castro decided to move the difficult relations between the two countries to a more manageable phase than to re-litigate disputes that had their origins in times of the cold war. Given the U.S. record of support for unpresentable positions and figures in Cuban exile, it is not in the U.S. interest to reopen that debate.
It should be remembered that the extradition agreement signed in 1904 is not in force between Cuba and the United States because Washington stopped its application in 1959 to protect escapees from the revolution who were associated with the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista. The agreement regulated the reciprocal extradition of violators of the laws of both countries, excluding those in non-violent political activities. The United States could have given asylum to supporters of the defeated regime but returned to Cuba all those implicated in crimes of blood or violence against the installed revolution. It did not do so before 1960, and afterwards it took as its responsibility the task of promoting sabotage, terrorism and even the organization of an invasion of exiles against Cuba under its direct command and supervision.
Over more than six decades, the United States has granted political asylum to hundreds of individuals involved in violent activities against Cuba or even in the United States itself, classified by its own department of justice as terrorism. Under different U.S. administrations, criminals such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles were neither extradited to Cuba, Venezuela or Italy, the country of the victim of one of the attacks claimed by the latter, nor tried in the United States as dictated by various conventions against terrorism to which the United States is a signatory. Bosch and Posada were the authors of the explosion in flight in Barbados of a Cubana de Aviación plane. The classified documents show that although the United States did not plan this attack, elements of its planning were known by the Ford administration without it communicating them to the Cuban government.
Standing out among the people sued by the United States is prominent case of Asata Shakur, who is accused of being involved in the death of police officer Werner Foerster in New Jersey as part of her militancy in the Black Liberation Army. All the extradition requests from the United States existed before Cuba’s being taken off the State Department’s list in May 2015 and the resumption of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington. Since 2010, in several reports on the inclusion of Cuba in the list before it was taken off, Shakur was not mentioned, nor other cases. Prominent politicians from the Afro-American caucus in Congress such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) had written letters to the Cuban government and the U.S. authorities denouncing the prominence of the case as a political vendetta that forgot the context of the civil rights groups of the African Americans in past decades and illegal actions by the government against them, such as the Cointelpro project.
Whatever the opinion on the Shakur case or others, the important question to be resolved is whether it serves the objectives of the fight against terrorism that the United States, with its own history of granting refuge to Bosch, Posada and others, in conjunction with the harassment of leaders of the civil rights movement, to relive that issue. Cuba has cooperated, even under the Trump administration, in returning infringers of U.S. laws to the United States, even without an extradition agreement between the two countries.
Bad diagnosis, bad policy
Pompeo’s irresponsible act provides the new Biden administration’s secretary of state with the easy recourse to dismantle, unceremoniously, the attempt to distort the official image of Cuba in the United States. The potential damages of the designation to the Cuba policy enunciated by Biden and Harris are remarkable. A diagnosis, which looks at Cuba as a threat to the security of the United States which it is not, distracts from a realistic approach that looks at the island as a country in the middle of an important economic and leadership transition with great consequences for both its future and opportunities for a fresh start with the United States.
Raúl Castro is retiring from his top position in the Communist Party and the Cuban leadership passes to a new generation, implementing a difficult economic reform with adjustment with potential migratory effects for the United States. What is the point of facing this complex reality based on a false diagnosis of terrorists attacking the United States from Cuba, which only exists in the conspiracies and fantasies of Trump, Pompeo and his accomplices?
Treating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism reopens U.S. courts, particularly those in South Florida, to opportunistic trials in which unscrupulous attorneys use the limited sovereign immunity status of the designated state to obtain juicy benefits in legal proceedings in which Cuba is not present. These trials produce judicial rulings in favor of millionaire lawsuits against Cuba that make the difficult issue of compensation between Cuba and the United States intractable. Even in the case of Iran, various U.S. administrations have presented arguments to the U.S. courts to request, in the interest of foreign policy, that trials not be conducted that would in the long run complicate with biased results the possibilities of an understanding between the two countries.
One effect of those trials would be to discredit the United States before the Cuban population. The Obama administration left―against the criteria of the most recalcitrant sectors within the ideological apparatus of the Communist Party of Cuba that launched a campaign to present the first African-American president as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”―an image of freshness and openness in relations with Cuba beyond the history of conflicts and disagreements. That image of change in which one can believe contrasts with Trump’s imperial stance towards Cuba and other issues. The Biden administration must not only revive the cancellation of the lawsuits under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act but also close the possibility of those caricatures offensive to the rule of law that are the trials against Cuba with limited sovereign immunity on the grounds of an undeserved denomination of terrorism.
With a quick return to a course of rapprochement, Biden has the opportunity to ratify the separation between a president like Trump caught in the Helms-Burton Act and the best values of American democracy represented by the open hand to dialogue that Obama extended in Havana in 2016. The Cuban population knows by heart all the aggressions, hypocrisy and the lack of standards of civility that characterized the imperial policies of dirty war against Cuba. Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism revives in the memory of many Cubans the Northwoods operation, when the joint chiefs of staff of the U.S. armed forces under the command of General Lyman Lemnitzer proposed false flag terrorist acts in which alleged Cubans would attack the U.S. providing a pretext to invade Cuba.
Despite all that, the image of the first Afro-descendant president and his last decision to propose a different course towards Cuba, gave the United States and the Democratic Party a reserve of goodwill among many Cubans. There is nothing more damaging to soft power than disappointment. Biden’s team should take this into account, being from the beginning, and dramatically, change, never continuity with Trump. Trump supporters will try to crucify Biden because of what he does, big or small. To quote the president-elect’s own Catholic saying, “there’s no sense in sacrificing oneself on a small cross.” The incoming team must make a big return to the policy enunciated by Obama in his October 2016 presidential order.
If the Biden administration wants to send a message of serious confrontation with terrorism and its commitment to multilateralism, removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is a test case. The idea that Biden has priorities other than Cuba on his agenda is an untenable pretext. Incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken must not grant impunity to the traps Pompeo has set for him. The new administration owes nothing to right-wing Cuban exiles in Florida, interested in turning the list into a baseball bat to hit Cuba. It is a matter of the elementary diplomatic professionalism invoked by the incoming administration that the Cuba case be reviewed with non-partisan technical criteria: Has Cuba been involved, after its removal from the list in 2015, in the sponsorship of any terrorist organization or act? If the answer is no, Cuba must be taken off the list without delay.