Mon, Jul

Biden Must Remove the Designation of Cuba as Terrorist-Sponsoring Nation


US & CUBA - President Obama in 2015 removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism (SSOT). President Trump reversed that action in January 2020, thereby aggravating economic difficulties for Cuba. President Joe Biden needs to end the designation. The time is now for representatives, senators, and other elected officials to pressure him.

Cuba is no terrorist-sponsoring nation. In accusing Cuba of hosting terrorists, the Trump administration disregarded Cuba’s invitation to Colombian guerrillas to join representatives of Colombia’s government on the island to negotiate peace.

The SSOT designation requires that targeted nations not use dollars in international transactions. The U.S. Treasury Department punishes institutional offenders. Dollars are the world’s dominant currency, and in normal circumstances, banks would use them in transactions involving Cuba. Now, however, foreign lenders steer clear of Cuba. Payments for exported goods and services may not arrive. Cuba is financially paralyzed.

Cubans are suffering. Food is short, as are spare parts, raw materials for domestic production, school and healthcare supplies, spare parts, consumer goods, and cash.  The aim of U.S. policy, as specified by a State Department memo of April 1960, is to cause shortages, despair and suffering serious enough to induce Cubans to overthrow their government.

The labeling of Cuba as a terrorist-sponsoring nation is part of the decades-long U.S. policy of embargo, which is more accurately characterized as an economic blockade, this in recognition of its worldwide reach. Reasons for removing the SSOT designation are the same ones for ending the blockade.

After all, ending the blockade is the Cuba solidarity movement’s prime goal. The campaign to persuade congresspersons to pressure the president to remove Cuba from the SSOT list must refer to the blockade, even as it pursues the more limited goal.

Congresspersons know that, as per the Helms-Burton Law of 1996, congressional action is required for the blockade’s end. They know that current political realities are unfavorable for such action.  Were they to agitate for presidential action on the SSOT matter, they would, in effect, be preparing for a fight against the whole blockade. That’s why it makes sense to use the one rationale to back up each fight.

Ending the blockade (and SSOT designation) has its uses

+      Producers and manufacturers would sell goods in Cuba.

+      With despair and discouragement having diminished, fewer Cubans would be heading to the United States; 425,000 Cuban migrants arrived in 2022 and 2023.

+      U.S. citizens could visit Cuba for recreation, cultural enrichment, and education. Their exposure to Cuban artists, scientists, and educators visiting in the United States would be gratifying.

+      For the blockade to end would disappoint proponents.  They should have been disappointed by the results of the decades-long experiment showing that the blockade did not work. Regime change did not happen. Blockade apologists could reasonably enough move on to something else.

+      An end to the U.S. blockade (and SSOT designation) would gratify nations in the UN General Assembly that annually, and all but unanimously, vote to approve a resolution calling for the blockade’s end. Critics of U.S. interventionist tendencies, wherever they are, would be pleased. The U.S. government would earn some love.

Ideals and values 

+      The blockade is cruel. It causes human suffering.

+      It violates international law: “Whatever view is adopted, either that of coercion or aggression, it is quite evident that the imposition of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba constituted an illegal act … the blockade is a fragrant violation of the contemporary standard which is founded on … sovereign equality between states.” (Paul A. Shneyer and Virginia Barta, The Legality of the U.S. Economic Blockade of Cuba under International Law, 13 Case W. Res. J. Int’l L. 451 (1981) 

+  The blockade is immoral. It contributes to sickness and deaths: “By reducing access to medicines and medical supplies from other countries and preventing their purchase from US firms, the embargo contributes to this rise in morbidity and mortality.” (Richard Garfield, DrPH, RN, commenting on Cuba’s “Special Period” of shortages following the fall of the Soviet Bloc – Am. J. Public Health 1997, 877, 15-20.)

+ The blockade exposes certain failings of U.S. democracy. U.S. political leaders remain oblivious to polling data showing strong support for normal U.S.-Cuba relations and for ending the blockade. Leaders of the Cuban exile community have long exerted undue influence in determining U.S. policies toward Cuba. The appearance is that of an important aspect of foreign policy having been farmed out to a strident minority.


The U.S. government claims the blockade serves as punishment of Cuba for allegedly violating human rights. But the United States has easily co-existed with governments famous for disregarding human rights, like Nicaragua’s Somoza regime, Chile under Pinochet, Haiti ruled by the Duvaliers, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

U.S. policymakers see Cuba as a Communist dictatorship and, on that account, as deserving of economic blockade. Even so, the United States trades with Vietnam and China, where Communist parties are in power.

Vice President Joe Biden presumably backed President Obama’s action in removing Cuba from the SSOT list. Contradicting himself, he refuses to reverse former President Trump’s placement of Cuba back on the list.

Contradictions point to Cuba as special case in the history of U.S. relations with other countries. Only Cubans find an open door on arrival in the United States as irregular migrants. Such red-carpet treatment stands alone in the record of how the U.S. government handles immigration.

The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 ensured that Cubans arriving in the United States without documents would at once receive social services and a work permit and a year later be granted permanent residence and the opportunity for citizenship.

The fact of U.S. hegemonic intent and actions regarding Cuba for 200 years must be extraordinary in the history of international relations. From Thomas Jefferson’s time until the 20th century, leaders in Washington sought to own or annex Cuba. They would later on find other modalities.

U.S.- Cuba relations have long been on automatic pilot. Pursuing justice and fairness, elected officials in Washington would be moving beyond that history. They would go against the grain as they pressure a U.S. president to no longer designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. Persevering, they would fight to relieve Cuba of all U.S. harassment.

(W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine. This article was first featured in CounterPunch.org.)

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