Adding Cuba Back to List of States That Sponsor Terrorism Is Trump’s Vendetta Against Biden
Friday, January 15, 2021
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
With only a few days left of the Trump administration, Cuba was put back on the blacklist of states that support terrorism. More than five years after it was put off the list of states that sponsor terrorism, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on January 11 that Cuba is back on it. The head of American diplomacy justified the decision, fraught with consequences, by accusing decisionmakers in the Cuban capital of Havana of having repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism by providing refuge to militants.
Cuba now rejoins Iran, North Korea and Syria on Washington’s list. Cuba through Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla denounced the “political opportunism” of the Trump administration, nine days before the Biden administration comes into power.
U.S. President Donald Trump ends his term in a climate of strong tensions and has left a major diplomatic problem for incoming Joe Biden. Trump’s action will force Biden to extricate himself from major issues by reopening complex discussions in Congress. The Democratic President-elect, who will officially take office on January 20, said during the election campaign that he would move swiftly to remove Trump’s restrictions on money transfers and travel to Cuba. This will effectively be sidelined as the State Department will have to engage all its means in order to declare that Cuba has not had terrorist links in the past six months.
Biden, as Vice President to Barack Obama, accompanied and implemented the normalization of relations with Cuba. In fact, Biden was the architect of Washington’s rapprochement with Havana. Cuba was readded to the list of states sponsoring terrorism partly as Trump’s personal attack vis-à-vis against the President-elect.
It is likely that the outgoing American president made this move for domestic politics, in particular Florida, where a strong diaspora community of 1.5 million Cubans exists. Cuban-Americans overwhelmingly oppose the communist government in Havana. By adopting an aggressive stance against the Cuban government, as well as against Bolivarian Venezuela, the Republicans have been able to secure the Latino anti-socialist vote.
Turning against Cuba has come rather late in the Trump mandate. During his election campaign in 2016, the Republican candidate never said a word about Cuba or even Venezuela. It was not a major issue at the time, nor did it catch Trump’s attention.
But very quickly, stuck in the dead ends of Syria and North Korea, Trump needed victories in foreign policy. To differentiate himself from the 16 years of the Bush and Obama mandates, which made the U.S. stuck in the Middle Eastern quagmire since the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, he turned against Cuba and Venezuela. In fact, Trump several times, through soft and hard power, attempted regime change operations in Venezuela.
The head of American diplomacy accused the Cuban government of having “For decades […] fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.”
Pompeo thus invoked the refusal of Havana to extradite ten leaders of the guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN) to Colombia.
Cuba agreed to a Colombian request in 2018 to provide asylum to leaders of the ELN so they could hold peace talks. However, peace talks broke down when the ELN bombed a police academy in January 2019 and killed 22 people (including the perpetrator) and injured 68 others. The new Colombian government demanded that Cuba hand over ELN leaders, but Havana rejected the request.
It is on the basis of this attack that the Trump administration claims that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. But this is problematic for two reasons:
Refusing to hand over the ELN leadership does not make Havana complicit in the terrorist attack or provide evidence that it was involved.
Washington hypocritically often allows countries to host terrorist organizations for peace talks, such as Qatar’s meditation between the Taliban and the Afghan government. This is despite the Taliban being directly responsible for the death of over 2,000 American soldiers. Washington also tolerates Turkey hosting the Hamas terrorist organization, among others.
Effectively the Trump administration is misusing terrorist designations. Although this latest attack is to appease Cuban-Americans and give Biden a major problem when he ascends to the White House on January 20, Washington’s labelling of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism will only harm ordinary Cubans, and not the ruling powers, as it could impede economic relations with other countries who fear U.S. retaliations.
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