By Rebecca Lullo and Phineas Rueckert, Research Associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
On May 30, the State Department submitted its annual report on terrorism (“Country Reports on Terrorism 2012”) to Congress, notably maintaining Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism along with Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Cuba was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism on March 1, 1982. It has remained ever since on the list of states that Washington accuses of repeatedly providing support for international acts of terrorism. The justification for Cuba’s presence on the list—that it is providing a safe haven for wanted fugitives and particularly for Assata Shakur—is flimsy at best.  Upon closer examination this assertion fails to be convincing. Cuba’s unfounded listing as a state sponsor of terrorism undermines U.S. credibility abroad, hampering its efforts to counteract authentic terrorism around the world.
As to the most common criteria for determining state sponsors of terrorism, the State Department has had to openly acknowledge that Cuba is not providing weapons or training to terrorist groups and is cooperating with the international community’s efforts to combat money laundering. Cuba is currently hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), calling into question claims that Cuba is harboring FARC members. Nevertheless, the assertion that Cuba is a safe haven for terrorists provides the main justification for its classification as a state sponsor of terrorism and is entirely duplicitous in its argument.
Assata Shakur and Edward Snowden: Two Distinct Cases of U.S. Fugitives and Cuba
The contention that Cuba shelters U.S. fugitives primarily alludes to the case of JoAnne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur, who became the first woman placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list on May 2 of this year.  Shakur is wanted for escaping from jail and fleeing to Cuba after being convicted of murdering a state trooper in New Jersey in 1973. Her conviction remains highly controversial due to the lack of definitive forensic evidence of her involvement, though her presence at the turnpike where the incident occurred is uncontested.  Many believe that Shakur was unfairly targeted due to her leadership role within the Black Panther Party and membership in the Black Liberation Army. 
Even if Shakur’s conviction holds, her classification as an international terrorist does not. First, U.S. statute defines terrorism as using or threatening violence against civilians or civilian populations for political gains.  An active-duty state trooper is not a civilian; therefore, this murder cannot be considered an act of terrorism. Second, the crime was allegedly perpetrated in the United States by a U.S. citizen and against a U.S. citizen, thus ruling out any basis for classification as an act of international terrorism.
Despite these considerations, the United States continues to demand Shakur’s extradition even though Cuba is under no obligation to do so. The Cuban government first granted Shakur asylum in 1984 based on her reasonable fear of being persecuted or prosecuted for her political beliefs and race upon her return to the United States.  Granting Shakur asylum absolved the Cuban government of any legal responsibility to comply with the U.S. request.  Even if Shakur had not been granted asylum, the Cuban government is not obligated to extradite fugitives charged with political crimes in accordance with a 1904 treaty with the United States.  Consequently, the FBI’s convenient reclassification of Shakur less than a month before the state sponsors of terrorism list was released points to inter-agency collaboration within the federal government to justify the continued presence of Cuba on the list.
Recent events regarding National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden shed further light on the inappropriate nature of Cuba’s continued listing as a state sponsor of terrorism. After fleeing the United States and subsequently being charged with three counts of espionage, Snowden travelled first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he requested political asylum from Ecuador. As there were no direct flights from Russia to Ecuador at the time, his publicized route included layovers in Havana and Caracas. Snowden’s transit is a highly political matter for all nations involved, since they can be implicated in giving refuge to a U.S. fugitive. However, the plane to Cuba took off without Snowden on board.
Story continues here: Shakur, Snowden, and the State Department: Is Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism?