By Peter McKenna in the Winnipeg Free Press
In some ways, the U.S.-Cuba relationship — even under the presidency of Barack Obama — is still locked in a Cold War time warp. For a host of illogical reasons, including Havana’s 2009 imprisonment of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who acted illegally in the country, Washington can’t seem to bring itself to break diplomatic bread with the Cuban government.
But there is some chatter in the halls of the U.S. State Department that newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry is seriously contemplating removing Cuba from an arbitrary list of countries that export or promote terrorism. By law, he has to make that determination and recommendation to the president before his department publishes its annual report on terrorism April 30.
Keeping Cuba on that list prevents dual-use military technology, which could include advanced medical equipment, from reaching the island. It also compels Washington to vigorously oppose any loans to Cuba from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Interestingly, Kerry has a record of endorsing moderation in Washington’s irrational and punitive Cuba policy, including his unease with millions of U.S. dollars for secretive democracy-building programs in Cuba. He no doubt believes the time is ripe, as is the political situation in south Florida, for the U.S. to work toward normalizing its relations with the Cuban government.
Cuba has been on the terror list since the list was first pulled together back in 1982. At that time, the reason for doing so was based on Havana’s material support for revolutionary movements and guerrillas in various Latin American countries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. That support no longer exists.
In the case of Cuba’s ties to the struggling Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) movement, there is no evidence that it has provided them with arms or paramilitary training. In fact, the Cubans have recently sought to curtail their relationship with ETA members residing on the island.
Further, Cuba is now playing an important mediation role in seeking to resolve the long-standing internal conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government. No matter how you slice it, the rationale for not delisting Cuba is pretty thin.
As a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times opined: “By all accounts, Cuba remains on the list — alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria — because it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism.”
It’s worth mentioning that the Cuban government strongly condemned the terror attacks of 2001, offered to send medical supplies and health-care professionals in their aftermath, and acquiesced in Washington’s plan to house suspected terrorists at its Guantanamo Bay naval facility.
Surely if North Korea could be removed from the bad-boy list in 2008 by the former George W. Bush administration — and that Pakistan has never made it onto the list, even though it had sheltered Osama bin Laden for years — it is long overdue to scratch Cuba’s name off.
Cubans have certainly strengthened their case for doing so under the leadership of Raúl Castro, who has introduced economic and social reforms, permitted Cubans to travel freely abroad (including vocal dissidents), opened a constructive dialogue with the Catholic Church and released dozens of political prisoners.
The Canadian government, fresh from Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s visit to Havana, should be using its good offices to convince the Americans to delist Cuba. If successful, it would have the salutary effect of bolstering Canada’s brand and profile in the region — a wise move, given that the Harper government has made the Americas a centrepiece of its foreign-policy thrust.
Removing Cuba from the terror list would also go some way toward resetting the U.S.-Cuba relationship on a proper diplomatic footing. This symbolically important step, in conjunction with a series of other confidence-building measures, such as the release of Gross, might eventually lead to the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and restore Washington’s credibility in the hemisphere. Such a move would obviously be in the best interests of Cuba, the U.S. and the wider international community.
Peter McKenna is professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island and the editor of Canada Looks South: In Search of an Americas Policy.