By Juan O. Tamayo, jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com
Cuba is harboring and supporting U.S. fugitives but may be trying to distance itself from two dozen members of a Basque terrorist group who live on the island, according to the State Department’s annual Country Report on Terrorism released Thursday.
The report for 2012 is totally separate from the department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which now includes Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan and subjects those nations to a special set of U.S. economic and other sanctions.
Advocates of keeping or removing Cuba from the list awaited the 2012 report with special interest because of media reports earlier this year, flatly denied by the State Department, that Secretary of State John Kerry would take Havana off the list.
The Cuba section of the 2012 report appeared to be similar to the section in 2011, with both noting that Havana authorities are continuing to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States and supporting them with housing, ration books and medical care.
One such fugitive is Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s “most wanted terrorist” list since 2005. A Black Panther who was convicted in the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper, she escaped from prison in 1979 and turned up in Havana in 1984. The FBI hiked the reward offered for her capture to $2 million in April.
“There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups,” the 2012 report said, in wording almost exactly the same as in the 2011 report.
Both reports also noted “suggestions” that Havana has tried to distance itself from members of Spain’s Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA), classified by Washington as a terrorist group, who live in Cuba by “not providing services, including travel documents, to some of them.”
The 2012 version adds that two dozen ETA members are living in Cuba.
Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also classified as a terror group, received refuge in Cuba in past years, according to the latest version. The 2011 report noted that FARC members had received medical assistance. The FARC and Colombian government are currently holding peace talks in Havana.
Both reports also noted that the U.S. Financial Actions Task Force has identified Cuba as having “strategic … deficiencies” in the fight against terrorism financing and money laundering. The latest report adds that Cuba has now joined a regional body designed for that purpose.
Cuba has been on the separate U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982. Havana also is on a separate U.S. government list, with Venezuela and others, of countries that are not “cooperating fully with United States antiterrorism efforts.”
To remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors, the White House is required to notify the U.S. Congress that Cuba has not engaged in terrorism for some time and promised not to do so again.