By Yanis Iqbal
On January 11, 2021, the US put Cuba back on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list “for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.” In his usual roguish tone, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated: “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”
The designation of Cuba will result in sanctions that restrict US foreign assistance, punish those who engage in trade with the Latin American country, ban defense exports/sales and impose controls on exports of dual use items.
Solidarity with Venezuela
Three arguments were used by Pompeo to justify sanctioning Cuba. Firstly, Pompeo cited Cuba’s security support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which he said had allowed the socialist leader to maintain his grip on power and create “a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.” All the bluff and bluster about “international terrorists” can be reduced to Pompeo’s groundless figments of imagination.
It is true that Cuba has been supporting Venezuela, including by sending several members of the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors specialized in Disasters and Serious Epidemics to facilitate the latter’s Coronavirus health infrastructure. What is not true is the logic used by Pompeo according to which solidarity with Venezuela translates into assistance for terrorists. If there are any terrorists in Venezuela, they can be found in the US-backed coup-mongering opposition – a political faction which has repeatedly called for murderous US sanctions, which contributed to 40,000 deaths in 2017–18 alone.
The 2016 Colombian Peace Agreement
Secondly, it was said that “Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN [National Liberation Army] leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.” The ELN leaders mentioned were part of a delegation involved in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, which started in 2016.
The bombing of the Bogota police academy in 2019 (which Cuba publicly condemned) brought the peace negotiations to an end. According to an agreement signed by the ELN and the Colombian government in 2016, if peace talks broke down, ELN negotiators in Cuba would be allowed safe passage back to ELN camps in Colombia.
Ivan Duque, the current President of Colombia, has chosen to disregard these protocols and requested the extradition of the ELN leaders in Cuba. Knowing that the Colombian government will not honor its commitment to guaranteeing the negotiators’ freedom upon returning home, Cuba refused to extradite them. Norway, which is one of the countries that acted as guarantors of the peace talks, has backed Cuba’s principled position.
Thirdly, Pompeo declared that Cuba harbors “several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on or convicted of charges of political violence”. Cuba’s provision of political asylum to foreigners is based on the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Territorial Asylum, adopted in December 1967. Affirming that asylum granted by a nation, “in the exercise of its sovereignty,” including to “persons struggling against colonialism, shall be respected by all other States,” the Declaration reinforced the right of nations to determine their own criteria for defining what constituted political repression, asserting: “It shall rest with the State granting asylum to evaluate the grounds for the grant of asylum.”
Among those mentioned as “terrorists” granted “safe harbor” by Cuba is the renowned Black revolutionary Assata Shakur. At this point, it is pertinent to note that for decades USA harbored Luis Posada Carriles, responsible for the 1976 terrorist attack that brought down a Cuban commercial airliner, killing 73 people who were on board. Posada Carriles was never convicted in the US for his numerous crimes – in fact he was recruited by the CIA for anticommunist activities. Washington repeatedly rejected attempts by the Cuban and Venezuelan governments to get him extradited.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement a day after the designation: “The Ministry of Foreign Relations condemns in the strongest and most absolute terms the fraudulent qualification of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, announced by the United States government in a cynical and hypocritical act.”
The statement additionally noted, “Cuba is a state victim of terrorism and our population has suffered it firsthand, at the cost of 3,478 fatalities and 2,099 people with disabilities, due to acts committed by the United States government or perpetrated and sponsored from the territory of that country with the tolerance of the official authorities.”
With Donald Trump in office, efforts to imperialistically strangulate Cuba intensified. Beginning in 2017, the White House started restricting flights and visits, sanctioning Cuban officials and institutions, as well as fining companies for doing business with Havana. Trump’s measures deprived Cuba of $5.7 billion in 2020, some $1.2 billion more than the prior year.
These huge losses have come at a time when all countries in the continent are struggling due to the pandemic. US efforts have made it hard for Cuba to acquire personal protective equipment and medical devices, while Cubans outside the country face considerable challenges in sending remittances back home.
The US officials, with blood in their hand, claiming Cuba is “supporting terror”, has no significance. Their only motive is to topple the revolutionary government, something they have been trying to do for the last 62 years. In the Second Declaration of Havana, Fidel Castro said: “By crushing the Cuban Revolution they [Yankee imperialists] hope to dispel the fear that torments them, the spectre of the revolution that threatens them. By liquidating the Cuban Revolution, they hope to liquidate the revolutionary spirit of the people.”