We applaud President Obama for the announcement today that Cuba will be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In addition to the economic embargo imposed in 1962, Cuba has unjustly languished on the U.S. State Department’s state-sponsored terror list since 1982—despite posing no threat to the United States’ national security. Today, we are happy to note that this has finally changed.
It was President Ronald Reagan who put Cuba on the terrorism list. He sought to blacklist Cuba’s support for leftist movements in Central and South America, movements that challenged US hegemony in the region. And after denouncing Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism, Reagan pursued his own campaign in Central and South America—funding the extreme right, conducting covert military actions, brokering illegal arms deals, and attempting coup d’etats.
The infamous US terror list includes only three other nations: Iran, Sudan, and Syria and curiously omits North Korea. Many people around the world found it hypocritical for the United States to single out Cuba while ignoring support for terrorism by U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Israel, especially since Cuba is known for exporting doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, and dancers — not terrorists. They could also argue that US actions–such as invading Iraq on the basis of lies or killing people by drones with no due process–would merit labeling the US itself as a state sponsor of terror.
President Obama’s announcement that Cuba will be taken off the terror list follows the historic announcement on December 17, 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba would seek to normalize relations. Why the drastic change after decades of bitterness? As Obama said during his State of the Union speech, “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”
Cuba’s removal from the list will hopefully warm efforts to normalize relations between the two nations. The terrorism designation was Cuba’s primary demand in reestablishing diplomatic ties. Serving as a point of contention during diplomatic talks, the dispute has even snarled progress towards opening embassies.
So now that Cuba is off the terror list, what happens next? Hopefully, the “Interest Sections” in both countries will be turned into embassies. It will be easier for international banks to do business with Cuba and the staff of the soon-to-be re-minted Cuban Embassy will finally be allowed to bank in the United States instead of having to conduct all their transactions in cash. But sadly, not much will change until the economic embargo is lifted. The president himself can make further changes by executive authority, but ultimately the lifting of the embargo must be done by Congress.
President Obama’s announcement to remove Cuba from the State Department’s state-sponsored terror list is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long road ahead. As Cuba’s removal from the list opens the pathway to opening embassies, we must now turn to Congress and demand that they further the president’s actions by ending the American travel ban to Cuba and the entire economic embargo.