U.S. keeps Cuba on terrorist list while continuing its criminal blockade
A man holds up a dove as people attend a ceremony praying for Fidel Castro's quick recovery and for peace in Havana, Cuba, during a health scare for the Cuban leader, Aug. 9, 2006. | Javier Galeano / AP

Cuba is a terrorist state—at least in the opinion of the U.S. Department of State.

In 1982, President Ronald Regan added Cuba to the U.S. roster of countries that supposedly promote international terrorism. That designation, stamped on Cuba in the midst of the Cold War, imposed even stricter financial attacks on the socialist island than it faced under the already-punishing U.S. economic blockade in place since the Sixties.

So, what were the alleged terrorist offenses to which Cuba was lending support? Chief on the list was Cuba’s historic commitment to internationalism and its determination to fight alongside movements opposing U.S. imperialism worldwide.

Cuba was also identified as an SSOT, a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” for its offering asylum to U.S. citizens fleeing unjust and racist persecutions, including Black Liberation activist Assata Shakur and Victor Manuel Gerena and Guillermo Morales, members of Puerto Rican independence movements.

Fast forward 40 years to December 2022, and three members of the U.S. Congress visited Havana to meet with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, and members of the legislature, the National Assembly of People’s Power. U.S. Reps. James McGovern, D-Mass., Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Troy Carter, D-La., visited to discuss the two countries shared interests and to “improve bilateral relations.”

Their journey to Cuba comes at a time when there are increasing calls across the U.S. to end the 60-year blockade on Cuba. And just as importantly, it comes just as a number of faith-based organizations and community groups are rallying around a related demand: Remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

The SSOT designation is totally unfounded and steeped in a history of anti-communist propaganda. A short review of the past half-century-plus makes it abundantly clear what the source of terror is in the U.S.-Cuba relationship—and it’s not Cuba.

A blockade of an entire people

By the time Cuba was designated a terrorist state by Reagan in 1982, U.S. economic sanctions had already been in place for 20 years. President John F. Kennedy had signed Proclamation 3447 in 1962 initiating the first steps of the blockade of Cuba in response to the island’s move away from subservience to U.S. economic interests, which had been the standard before the Cuban Revolution.

Cuba nationalized U.S. corporate-owned oil refineries in August 1960, under President Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado and Prime Minister Fidel Castro. The country also made all sugar factories and mines public property. The value of the seized oil assets totaled some $1.7 billion USD.

Acting on behalf of the upset corporations, Kennedy responded with Proclamation 3447, prohibiting all “importation into the U.S. of all goods of Cuban origin and all goods imported from or through Cuba” and banning all exports from the U.S. to Cuba.

The sanctions were not only a reaction to Cuba’s declaration of economic autonomy but to its decision to begin turning away from world capitalism and toward a socialist system. In the first year of the Revolution, the new government built thousands of schools, increased the literacy rate, and enacted Agrarian Reforms which broke up large landholdings and redistributed land, building peasant cooperatives. It also began seeking closer relations with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.

The U.S. government began to only view Cuba through an anti-communist lens. In Proclamation 3447, Kennedy stated that the Cuban government was “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Inter-American system,” which was code for the chain of U.S.-dominated states in Central and South America.

Now, over six decades later, these same sanctions—and the ones that were added later—still limit essential imports and exports of food and medicine and restrict industries such as computers, technology, chemicals, electronics, telecommunications, and information security. Shortages and hardship for the Cuban people are the results.

Who’s the terrorist state?

In a 1980 report titled Agency’s Patterns of International Terrorism, the CIA claimed Cuba “openly advocates armed revolution as the only means for leftist forces to gain power in Latin America…and provides direct support in the form of training, arms, safe havens, and advice to a wide variety of guerrilla groups.”

That provided the pretext for Reagan’s SSOT designation, expanding the previous sanctions and resulting in further isolation of Cuba. But the socialist country didn’t remain on the terror list forever, it has been removed for a period in the past.

On May 29, 2015, the administration of President Barack Obama removed Cuba’s SSOT designation. Travel was expanded between the two countries, embassies were opened in Washington and Havana, and dialogue resulted in 22 bilateral agreements. Although then-President Raúl Castro’s request to end U.S. sanctions and permanently close the U.S. military base and torture camp at Guantanamo Bay were denied, the Obama years showed that there could again be productive relations between the two nations.

But in the closing days of the Donald Trump administration, Cuba was again put on the SSOT list, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo citing the same old asylum of U.S. political fugitives as a reason, along with Cuba’s harboring of Colombian liberation fighters and alliance with the Venezuelan government, which allegedly allowed “terrorists to live and thrive.”

Headlines announce Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba.

Samantha Wherry, of the feminist anti-war organization CODEPINK, said that the December 2022 delegation of U.S. Congress members to Havana could represent another opening toward U.S.-Cuba normalization.

“These Congress people are aware of the harm of the blockade and have been advocating for lifting it,” she said. After returning, they held many meetings with the Biden administration and State Department officials. They are advocating for Cuba’s removal from the SSOT list. “It doesn’t make sense for Cuba to be on this list,” Wherry said.

During Biden’s campaign for president, he promised to re-engage with Cuba, pledging to reverse new Trump-era sanctions that hurt Cuban families. However, nothing has yet come of this, even though there is still no proof that Cuba currently harbors terrorists or engages in terrorism. Biden can use his executive power to influence Cuba’s removal from the list; this would require a presidential report and certification of congress, in addition to an affirmation from Biden that Cuba does not support terrorism.

Recently, 160 U.S. lawyers demanded Biden initiate that process. The attorneys say that under the State Department’s own criteria, Cuba does not meet the standards for sponsoring terrorism. Peace organizations—including the U.S.-Cuba Normalization Committee, Pastors for Peace, SEIU1199, Puentes de Amor, and others—have joined the call and continue to send caravans to Cuba, displaying international solidarity and creating an ongoing dialogue aimed at ending the blockade.

Cuba’s placement on the SSOT list—like the entire U.S. economic sanctions regime—is unjust and steeped in anti-communist propaganda. Every ally of the Cuban people and every supporter of peace should denounce these policies.

As Wherry said, “Right now Cuba needs solidarity…. Encourage your representatives to have just policies toward Cuba. Join an organization, join calls to action, and show up in the streets.”

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Jacob Buckner
Jacob Buckner

Jacob Buckner writes from New York. Jacob Buckner escribe desde Nueva York.