Is Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism? Let’s get real, State Department

In 1979, the U.S. State Department began designating countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Today, four countries are on the list: Iran, Syria, Sudan and … Cuba. 

Seriously, Cuba?

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Countries not on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list include: Yemen, Lebanon, Pakistan, North Korea (the Department of State removed North Korea from the list in 2008) and Libya (removed from the list in 2006).

Cuba was added to the list in 1982, due to its support for communist rebels in Africa and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Having just returned from an extensive research trip to Cuba, where we met with embassy officials from key European and Latin American countries, the U.S. Interests Section and Cuban government officials, we have concluded that it is simply illogical and counterproductive to keep Cuba on the list. There is little, if any, evidence that Cuba provides support for terrorism, and the evidence further shows that they haven’t for more than 20 years.

After the Cold War ended, many in the intelligence community concluded that Cuba was no longer a national security threat to the United States. The 2008 U.S. State Country Report on Terrorism stated that Cuba “no longer actively supports armed struggles in Latin America and other parts of the world.” The same report further states, “The United States has no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba.”

The 2009 report stated: “There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009.” The 2010 State Department report stated: “The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates.”

Does keeping Cuba on the list make any sense, more than two decades after the events cited in the original listing? 

So why does the State Department retain Cuba on the list?

The rationale seems to be that “the Cuban government continued to provide safe haven to several terrorists,” according to the 2008 Country Report on Terrorism.

Let’s look at the evidence.

First, the State Department alleges that Cuba offers safe haven to terrorists from Spain.

The fact is that a handful of former members of the Basque Homeland and Freedom organization — more commonly known by the acronym ETA for the Spanish translation — live in Cuba in accordance with a decades-old bilateral agreement with the Spanish government. Spain has stated public appreciation for Cuba’s willingness to host these individuals and has maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with the group. The Spanish police even maintain a small presence in Cuba.

Second, the State Department alleges that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) Columbian rebel groups maintain a presence in Cuba. The fact is, Cuba hasn’t supported ELN for more than 20 years. Moreover, the Colombian government publicly stated that Cuba has played a useful role in facilitating peace talks with the rebels, according to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report. 

The 2010 State Department report itself echoes the 2009 report, that “there was no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support” for FARC.

In addition to the lack of evidence to support the listing, there are convincing reasons why Cuba should be removed:

Cuban presence on the list damages U.S. credibility with almost all of our key allies and puts us at odds with every country in Latin America, who view the listing as capricious and politically motivated.

It impedes our ability to work with allies to facilitate contacts with rebel groups, such as FARC, that are aimed at reconciliation.

U.S. policy cripples efforts to cooperate with Cuba on important American national security issues, including transnational human, drug and weapons smuggling, as well as environmental disasters.

American policy hurts our businesses and workers by providing a rationale to continue the job-killing embargo on trade with Cuba.

Most of all, retaining Cuba on the State Department’s list undermines American efforts in the broader — and very real — fight against terrorism.

For all these reasons, it is time for the United States to end our counterproductive and hypocritical policy and remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list.


Adams is president of Guardian Six Consulting LLC, a national security consulting firm. Jones is a federal lobbyist in Washington.