The new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden plans to roll back relations between the United States and Cuba, but Trump’s move days before he leaves office will make it difficult.
The Trump administration will put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on Monday, according to two high-ranking State Department officials. This reversed an Obama-era decision and made it difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to quickly resume diplomatic relations with Havana.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is expected to name Cuba as the country continues to host American refugees, including Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state soldier in 1973, and a Colombian extradition request related to members of the National Liberation Army 2019 rejects bomb attack that killed 22.
Cuba only joins Syria, Iran and North Korea – nations widely condemned for instigating terrorism – on the US list. Cuba was originally added to the list in 1982, but was removed by President Barack Obama in 2015 to improve economic and diplomatic ties with the Caribbean nation.
Biden has indicated that he intends to revive Obama-era policies of easing economic and travel restrictions in hopes that closer ties and more capitalism will pave the way for democratic change in Cuba. That strategy could include reducing restrictions on travel, investments and remittances for the island nation that are believed to disproportionately harm Americans and ordinary Cubans.
Under President Donald Trump, the United States called Cuba part of a “troika of tyranny” with Nicaragua and Venezuela. His moves were popular with Cuban Americans in Florida, a state that Trump won on re-election with the help of Cuban-American refugees, Venezuelan Americans, and other anti-Communist Latino voters.
His government had thought about the terrorism sponsor’s move for months. Two senior State Department officials, who asked not to be identified to discuss internal considerations, said politics was not part of the decision to redesign Cuba and that several administrations – including Obamas – were late in their presidency made political decisions about the island.
Officials said the process of getting Cuba back on the list was a lengthy one, and if the US wanted to make politics it would have renamed Cuba before the November presidential election, not after.
The government had already signaled in May that it could restore the name for Cuba. At the time, officials announced that Cuba was back on a separate list of nations not fully cooperating with US counter-terrorism efforts because of their refusal to extradite members of the National Liberation Army.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, state sponsors of terror are countries that “have repeatedly provided support for international acts of terrorism”. One of the officials said there was a precedent dating back to the presidency of George HW Bush to keep a country on the terrorist list even if it does not actively support acts of terrorism.
Cuba and the US, enemies after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, established diplomatic relations in 2015 when Obama was president and Biden was vice president. The US eased a five-decade trade embargo and took further steps towards normalization, although a complete end to US restrictions would require an act of Congress.
Despite beginning openings and increasing foreign investment since the 1990s, Cuba’s economy remains tightly controlled by the government and the military.
During Trump’s tenure, he opened the door to lawsuits against companies profiting from property confiscated by the Cuban government, banned educational travel and cruises, and limited direct flights. Biden could remove Cuba from the terrorist list, but a formal review could delay the process for several months and restart the debate about Cuba’s communist leaders.