The Trump administration declared Cuba a government sponsor of terrorism On Monday, the last of a series of measures aimed at undoing the legacy of the Obama era of opening US relations with the island nation just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden took office.
“From the outset, the Trump administration has focused on denying the Castro regime the resources to oppress its people at home and countering its vicious interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “With this action we will again hold the Cuban government accountable and send a clear message: The Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and the subversion of the US justice system.”
The State Department had informed Congress of the upcoming move on Monday morning, according to two congressional assistants who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly. Bloomberg had first reported on the upcoming action.
Cuba was placed on the list in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan, but was removed in 2015 by President Barack Obama as part of a normalization of relations between the US and Cuba. If Cuba is put back on the list before the Trump administration leaves office, it will be a major drag on the efforts of incoming Biden officials to return to Obama-era politics.
In order to reverse Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s action, the Biden administration would have to certify to Congress that there has been a fundamental change in leadership in Cuba and that the government does not support acts of international terrorism, has not and has not done so for six months will do so in the future.
The designation results in restrictions on U.S. foreign aid, a ban on U.S. arms exports and sales, controls on dual-use items that could be used for both military and civil purposes, and the withdrawal of U.S. support for loans from global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.
Still, the move can be largely symbolic. Given the range of sanctions and restrictions already imposed under the Trump administration, it is unclear what further financial hardship the Cuban government designation would mean.
Pompeo has been considering the decision to put Cuba back on the terrorism list for months.
The State Department gave notice of Monday’s decision in May last year and told Congress that Venezuela and Cuba, in addition to the three countries already on the list, under the Arms Export Control Act were “not fully cooperating” with the fight against terrorism in the United States Efforts were certified in 2019.
Reasons for the designation included Cuba’s refusal to extradite Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, an American who fled to Cuba after being convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. The Foreign Ministry also cited Cuba’s rejection of a Colombian request to extradite members of a guerrilla group who assumed responsibility for a bomb attack at a police academy; The Cuban government has cited the ongoing peace negotiation protocols.
The Trump administration has systematically urged the Cuban government to support the socialist Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
“The argument to put Cuba back on the list is a simple straight line to Venezuela for the government,” said John Kavulich, President of the US and Cuba Trade and Economic Councils, of the expected announcement. “They kept saying that Maduro was only there because of Cuba.”
“The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces,” said Pompeo, adding that Cuba had helped Maduro “maintain its stranglehold on its people while enabling terrorist organizations to operate.”
In December, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced Pompeo’s possible “maneuvers” in an attempt to “please the anti-Cuban minority in Florida”.
Iran, North Korea and Syria are the only nations currently identified as state sponsors of terrorism. Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to certify a country that “has repeatedly provided support for international terrorist acts”. The Trump administration took Sudan off the list last month shortly after agreeing to officially recognize Israel.