As Congress Considers Prolonging Cuba’s Designation as a Terrorism Supporter, Biden Dithers

Although Cuba’s Revolution survived military invasion, guerrilla actions, terrorist attacks, and bacteriologic warfare, enough was not enough. Now there are pay-offs to dissidents, manipulation of worldwide media coverage, and weaponization of social media capabilities. The U.S. economic and financial blockade persists, after 60 years, and will continue.

That’s mostly because power to end the blockade switched from the executive branch to Congress, courtesy of the Helms Burton Law of 1996. Now the House of Representatives will be considering a bill that, similarly, would have Congress and no longer the president decide on removing Cuba from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring nations.

Miami representative María Elvira Salazar introduced H.R. 314, the so-called FORCE Act, on January 12,2023.  Its aim is “To prohibit the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism until Cuba satisfies certain conditions, and for other purposes.”

Senator Marco Rubio introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate on March 16. The House bill has 24 co-sponsors; five are Floridians. The House Foreign Affairs Committee sent the bill to the House floor on March 28.

Meanwhile, a revived campaign is pressuring President Biden to end the designation of Cuba as terrorism-sponsoring nation. That campaign takes on urgency now inasmuch as Congress may co-opt Biden’s power to do so.

The designation represents a false account of Cuba’s facilitation of peace talks between Colombia’s government and leftist guerrillas. It traces back to old accusations that Cuba was harboring fugitives from the United States.

The designation persisted from the 1980s until 2015, when President Obama removed it, only to be reinstated by President Trump in 2021. The effect is to broaden economic war and bring new grief to Cuba.

U.S. dollars are weaponized; they the de facto currency in all international financial dealings, anywhere, by anyone. A convenient choke point exists, as pointed out recently by Cuban diplomat José Ramón Cabañas: “The issue is the clearing system based in New York. 90% of [Cuba’s] international transactions with US dollars go through that system … [and are] automatically frozen.”

U.S. regulations, introduced through executive action, long ago prohibited state sponsors of terrorism from using U.S. dollars in international transactions. Consequently, payments that Cuban exporters expect from foreign buyers may not arrive, and Cuban importers have difficulties paying foreign suppliers. International loan payments are blocked and grants from international agencies go astray.

The U.S. Treasury Department may impose heavy fines on those international banks and foreign corporations that do handle dollars in transactions with Cuba.  Non-offenders avoid Cuba, out of caution. The connection between the terrorism-sponsoring designation and prohibition on the use of U.S. currency has led to shortages and distress in Cuba.

Massachusetts Peace Action has spearheaded the necessary campaign against H.R 314. A recent communication provides information and shows how to contact members of the House of Representatives.

The extended Cuban exile community provides the main support for the legislative proposal. The Cuba part of U.S. foreign policy is regularly farmed out to the population sector with the most to lose or gain. That approach is dysfunctional, irrational, and unfair.

The text of the proposed bill assigns Cuba goals, fulfillment of which would signal that Cuba no longer is be designated as a sponsor of terrorism. These are the very goals that, as specified in the Helms-Burton Law, need to be achieved so that the blockade may be ended.  The goals are:

+ Release all political prisoners and allow for investigations of Cuban prisons by appropriate international human rights organizations.

+ Transition away from the Castro regime to a system that guarantees the rights of the Cuban people to express themselves freely.

+ Commit to holding free and fair elections.

Perspective reveals contradictions.  The subject of political prisoners demands consideration of the fate of U.S. prisoners held in Guantanamo. It’s worthwhile also to recall that neither Fidel or Raul Castro now plays a part in Cuba’s government; that their influence may persist, just as did Abraham Lincoln’s in the United States; and that in Cuba organized discussion among wide sectors of the population invariably precedes the introduction of important initiatives. The last such occasion was the discussion period in 2022 prior to the vote on the Constitutional Amendment for a Family Code.

And, lastly, Cuba’s conduct of elections is exemplary. In voting on March 26 for Cuba’s National Assembly, 75% of the voting population took part. The portion of those who vote in U.S. national elections is far smaller. The make-up of delegates to the Assembly reflects the demographics of Cuba’s population. As delegates, they choose Cuba’s leaders, who are themselves members of the National Assembly. That’s a process followed in the parliamentary systems of many countries.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.