BY Keith Bolender, Guest Scholar at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Of all the components to the United States hostile strategy against Cuba, nothing raises the ire of the Castro government more than its inclusion on the State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. The designation is seen by Havana as an impediment towards improving relations and as a cruel hypocrisy that provides political cover for Washington to justify the imposition of economic penalties along with the perpetuation of anti-revolutionary propaganda.
There is an opportunity to eliminate that stumbling block in the next few weeks, if newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry decides to recommend Cuba’s deletion from the list to President Obama. Kerry has until the release of the State Department’s annual terror report on April 30 to make the determination of whether Cuba will remain on the terrorist list. High ranking Cuban officials are closely watching this development, indicating the removal could offer an opportunity to re-engage with the United States. 
The history of Cuba’s controversial inclusion goes back to 1982, the same year Iraq was taken off the list by the Reagan administration. Besides Cuba, only Sudan, Iran, and Syria continue to be labeled as state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea was dropped in 2008, while Pakistan, long the home of Osama Bin Laden and recognized as a haven for Islamic terrorists, has never been considered. Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from, is looked upon as a staunch ally of the United States.
There are numerous reasons why the Castro government finds its insertion on the list so galling. First are the real economic consequences to the designation. By law the United States must oppose any loans to Cuba by the World Bank or other international lending institutions. Obama administration officials have been using Cuba’s inclusion to make it increasingly difficult for Havana to conduct normal banking transactions that involve U.S. financial establishments, regardless of which currency is being used. Furthermore, the United States has imposed an arms embargo against all parties placed on the list (which the Castro government has experienced since the triumph of the Revolution) as well as prohibiting sales of items that could be considered to have both military and non-military dual use, including hospital equipment. For example, the William Soler children’s hospital in Havana was labeled a ‘denied hospital’ in 2007 by the State Department, bringing with it serious ramifications. Various medicines and technology have become impossible to obtain, resulting in the deaths of children and the inability of staff to properly deal with a variety of treatable conditions.  For Cuba, these restrictions are additionally damaging as the island continues to suffer from the comprehensive embargo the United States has imposed since the early 1960s.
On an emotional level, Havana has long drawn attention to the double standard that permits Washington to label others as a terrorist state, all the while ignoring its own culpability in the multiple acts of terror that have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Cuban civilians. This relatively unreported history stretches back to the early months following Castro’s victory over the Batista regime, when the United States was determined to eliminate the Cuban revolution not only through economic and political means, but with violence. Operation Mongoose, a program developed by the State Department under the overarching Cuba Project, coordinated terrorist operations from the period following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 to the October missile crisis 18 months later. During this time State Department officials provided logistical and material support to violent anti-revolutionary groups carrying out terrorist activities on the island. The terrors included torturing and murdering students who were teaching farmers to read and write, blowing up shoppers at Havana’s busiest department stores, bombing sugar cane plantations and tobacco fields, killing Cuban fishermen and the innumerable attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and other top government officials.  Historian Arthur Schlesinger reported in his biography of Robert Kennedy that Operation Mongoose was formulated under the Kennedy administration to bring “the terrors of the earth” to the Cuban people.  It has been called one of the worst cases of state sponsored terrorism of the 20th century.  When Operation Mongoose ended, violent anti-Castro groups based in South Florida, such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7, took over operations, often with the tacit approval and knowledge of local and federal authorities. In 1971, the village of Boca De Samá on the northeast coast of Cuba was attacked, leaving two civilians dead and a dozen more injured. Alpha 66 continues to claim credit for this act of terrorism on their website.  A series of biological agents were purportedly introduced into Cuba in the 1970s, harming a number of plants and animals. These biological attacks included an outbreak of swine fever that killed a half-million pigs. Perhaps the worst case was the1981 epidemic of Dengue 2, totally unheard of in Cuba prior to this period. More than 300,000 people were affected within a six-month period. An estimated 102 children died as a result of the disease. Cuban-American Eduardo Arocena, former member of Omega 7, testified in 1984 that he travelled to Cuba in 1980 to “introduce some germs” into the country to “start the chemical war,” —as reported by The New York Times.  One of them was Dengue 2.
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