Groups fight to remove Cuba from “terrorism sponsors” list

At the headquarters of the National Press Club in downtown Washington D.C., a consortium of organizations announced a new push to get Cuba taken off the State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list on Thursday last week.

The event, in the form of a panel discussion, was sponsored by the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The MC was Wayne Smith, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, who was the head of the U.S. Interests Section (instead of embassy) in Havana from 1979 to 1982, having been appointed by Jimmy Carter. Other participants were Congressman James P. McGovern, D-Massachusetts, former ambassador Anthony Quainton who is now “Diplomat in Residence” at American University, Robert Muse of Muse and Associates, and Adam Isacson of WOLA.

Congressman McGovern, who has followed U.S. Cuba policy closely, just got back from a visit to Cuba with a bipartisan delegation headed by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. McGovern participated in a two hour meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro. He and the other speakers pushed for an overall change in U.S.-Cuba policy, of which removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism would be a useful first step.

It would be of symbolic value, but it would also be a necessary step if current restrictions on trade with Cuba are going to be lifted, because presence of a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list prohibits certain kinds of trade, aid and financial transactions. To get a country off the list, the administration would have to certify that it is not supporting terrorism and that it agrees not to do so in the future.

Cuba was first put on this list in 1982, during the Reagan administration. What was Cuba doing around then that merited this?

First of all, it was helping the independent nation of Angola to resist armed intervention orchestrated by the apartheid regime in South Africa. The South African government wanted to reduce Angola to a client state so that it could not be a rear base for South Africans fighting to end apartheid and Namibians fighting for their independence. To this end, the South African regime teamed up with Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA organization. Savimbi was a particularly brutal example of the warlord type, which did not prevent the U.S. government from supporting him also. Cuban support for the Angolan government started in the 1970s and went through a number of phases, culminating in the crucial siege of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-1988, in which Angolan and Cuban troops defeated a South African-organized column. Most analysts think it was this defeat that finally motivated the apartheid regime to seek a negotiated settlement with tjhe African National Congress and the SWAPO freedom organization in Namibia, bringing independence to Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

In Central America, Cuba provided support such as training for revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow series of bloodthirsty dictators and their regimes. The United States, on the other hand, was supporting those regimes with money, arms and logistical help. In the case of Nicaragua the United States was providing this support to the “Contras,” right-wing armed groups who specialized in murdering school teachers and labor activists, and who were also involved in the drug trade.

The United States also conducted some direct terrorist activities. To give just one example, in the World Court in the Hague found the United States guilty of placing deadly mines in the harbor at the Corinto and two other ports in Nicaragua. The mines caused the deaths of two people and damage to numerous ships and boats belonging to Nicaragua but also to other nations. Nicaragua filed a complaint with the World Court against the United States; the court ruled for Nicaragua but the United States never even acknowledged this ruling.

So Cuba was put on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list largely because of its support for struggles against tyranny and racism.

The United States at that time was supporting that selfsame tyranny and racism, with money, arms and direct intervention. It was doing this through terroristic methods.

Most of these things went on under Republican administrations, but plenty of Democratic Party leaders, either for their own ideological reasons or out of fear of the Cuban exile lobby in the United States, have, with the exception of President Jimmy Carter and a few others, not done much to change this. Some have been just as gung ho about attacking Cuba as the Republicans.

Apartheid is gone, Savimbi is dead, and the civil wars in Central America are over. Cuba has cordial diplomatic and trade relations with all the countries which were supposedly victims of Cuban terrorism, even those with right wing governments. But Cuba has stayed on the list, under pretexts I have dealt with in a previous article.

The classification of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism when it is nothing of the sort, and when it is in fact playing a major role in trying to end the civil war in Colombia in negotiations which the U.S. says it supports, is so absurd that perhaps the current administration can be shamed, pressured or cajoled to drop Cuba from the list. President Obama does not need permission from Congress to do this; it can be done with the stroke of a pen.

The public voice needs to be heard on this, or nothing will happen. There is a petition circulating on the internet calling for the removal of Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. We should all sign it and circulate it as widely as possible.

Photo: Students head to class at the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana, Cuba. Cuba has a reputation worldwide for providing free medical school to students who come from anywhere to Havana. The U.S. is the only country that still claims Cuba has ties to terrorism.   Javier Galeamo/AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.