ON April 14, President Barack Obama notified the U.S. Congress of his decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. From that date, the government must allow a period of 45 days for Congressional and public comment, before Cuba’s removal from the list becomes effective.
Two weeks ago, Cuban-born Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican-Florida) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to reverse the President’s decision. However, her efforts met with resounding failure, and she was forced to withdraw the bill. In doing so, she misleadingly claimed there were no legislative mechanisms which allow for the repeal of the de-listing of Cuba, which is not true, as Congress has the necessary procedures to maintain the designation of a country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The reality is that the anti-Cuban Congresswoman failed to garner the required support, even among members of the Republican Party, which currently holds the majority in both houses of Congress, to pass a law that would override Obama’s decision and survive a possible presidential veto.
This means that once the 45 days established by law have passed, on May 29, the inclusion of Cuba as a terrorist state will end.
This constitutes an act of historical justice for the Cuban people.
For 33 years the U.S. government unjustifiably kept our country on an ignominious list, on which it never should have been included, as a country that was victim to hundreds of terrorist acts which killed 3,478 people and incapacitated 2,099 Cuban citizens. Cuba has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as well as any action that seeks to provide encouragement, support, financing and concealment of acts of this nature. As a sign of its international commitment, the Cuban state has ratified all conventions and protocols on combating terrorism promoted by the United Nations.
A positive outcome of the presidential decision on Cuba in the legal field, will be the eradication of the possibility of further spurious claims against the Cuban government, as filed in the past by unscrupulous people who, protected by U.S. anti-terrorism laws and with the complicity of courts, especially in Miami, won compensatory damages that allowed them to seize assets frozen in the United States belonging to Cuban state entities, by virtue of our designation as a sponsor of terrorism.
However, the definitive exclusion from this list does not imply any relief from the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba. This is because most of the laws and regulations which established the blockade policy were approved before 1982, when Cuba was declared a state sponsor of terrorism. The sanctions and restrictions that this designation implies were therefore already in place as part of the blockade.
U.S. officials themselves have made clear, following the announcement of President Obama’s decision, that the majority of the restrictions associated with the inclusion of Cuba on the terrorist list will continue, as they are contained in the complex web of sanctions which make up the blockade.
The Trading with the Enemy Act (1917), the Foreign Assistance Act (1961) and the Export Administration Act (1979), which during the early years of the Revolution supported the policy of economic war against Cuba, were enacted prior to 1982, just as the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (1963) and the Export Administration Regulations (1979), issued to implement that which was codified within these laws. Subsequently, other laws such as the Torricelli (1992), the Helms-Burton Act (1996) and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, intensified the bans on transactions with Cuba, with a marked extraterritorial character.
For example, among the transactions prohibited by law, arising from the inclusion of a country on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, are the export of military equipment and dual-use technology (civil and military), the granting of foreign assistance and the development of government aid programs, the provision of loans and credits by international financial institutions, and the adoption of systems of trade preferences and commercial rates. All these restrictions will remain in force for Cuba, despite its de-listing, in compliance with the laws and regulations of the blockade.
The removal from the list, due to its positive symbolic and political effect, could have some impact on the perception of Cuba as a risk country by financial institutions and alleviate - though not eliminate - the fear of banks, especially foreign, of maintaining relations with our country.
This reflects the fact that following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States strengthened its laws and regulations on the financial sector to combat the financing of terrorism, which had a further negative impact on those states singled out as sponsors of terrorism, which have been the object of true harassment and persecution of their financial operations over the last five years, under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Nevertheless, Cuba will continue to be considered a significant risk in financial matters, as it is subjected to a regime of unilateral economic sanctions by the U.S. government. It is worth remembering that when foreign banks refuse to work with Cuba, they do so for two reasons: due to its designation as a terrorist state and due to being a country sanctioned by the U.S. blockade.
Testament to this is the fact that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department, responsible for ensuring compliance with the blockade regulations and penalizing U.S. and foreign banking institutions that violate these, has upheld the persecution of Cuban financial transactions, even after the announcements of December 17, 2014. The billion-dollar fines imposed on the German bank Commerzbank ($1.71 billion) and U.S. online payment company PayPal ($7,658,300) this March, demonstrate the continued enforcement of this policy and its marked extraterritorial nature.
While the removal of Cuba from the list implies virtually no change in the application of the blockade, it is a just measure and has been welcomed by the public in the United States. A media survey by website New Jersey, NJ.com, revealed that 64% of U.S. citizens believe the President made the right decision.
This action by the White House allows for progress in the process of restoring diplomatic relations between both countries. But, in order to normalize ties with Cuba, among other important pending issues, the United States should fully lift the blockade.
Just as Cuba should never have been included on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, because the country has never promoted or supported terrorist acts, it should not remain subject to the most overarching and prolonged system of unilateral economic, commercial and financial sanctions ever imposed on a nation. It is time for the blockade to come to an end.