National Security

Bill would block Biden from delisting Cuba as state sponsor of terrorism

Lawmakers are seeking to block President Biden from reversing the Trump administration’s last-minute decision to list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Legislation from GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rick Scott (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) would bar Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken from removing the designation former President Obama first lifted five years ago.

The State Department added Cuba to the state sponsored terrorism list in Trump’s last 10 days in office, with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arguing it would help with “denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”

Though critics widely panned the move as a trumped-up claim designed to complicate Biden’s path forward with Cuba, the Biden administration has thus far not begun the process of removing Cuba from the list.

“A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities, but we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy, and we’re committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week.

Under the legislation, the U.S. couldn’t remove Cuba from the list until it releases political prisoners and holds democratic elections.

“The Trump Administration was right to reverse President Obama’s removal of the Cuban regime as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” Rubio said in a release. 

“Under this new administration, we must ensure the meaningful actions to hold the despotic Castro and Díaz-Canel regime accountable remain in place.”

The designation makes Cuba one of just four countries on the list, along with Iran, North Korea and Syria and includes “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports…and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions,” according to the State Department.

The Trump administration pinned the decision on Cuba’s unwillingness to extradite 10 leaders of Colombia’s National Liberation Army, who first arrived to the country in 2017 as part of negotiated peace talks.

“The state sponsored terrorism thing out on Cuba is not any more severe than what have anyway,” said Geoff Thale, president of the Washington Office on Latin America, which has advocated for expanding diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“It does less in practical terms than symbolic ones. It’s about casting Cuba as a terrorist state and making them international pariah,” he added. 

Cuba called the January destination “political opportunism.”

“We condemn the hypocritical and cynical designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism announced by the US. The political opportunism of this action is recognized by anyone with an honest regard for the scourge of terrorism and its victims,” Bruno Rodríguez with the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote on Twitter at the time. 

The same trio of lawmakers has been vocal early in the new administration about any easing of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“We write to inform you of our objection to any motions or consent requests with regard to any legislation that seeks to amend our nation’s policy towards Cuba,” they wrote in a letter to Senate leaders of both parties.

“Given the importance of this issue to our constituents, many of whom were forced to flee the regime’s brutality and repression, the U.S. Congress cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of the Cuban people,” they wrote. “Any efforts to weaken U.S. law would only finance the Cuban military and support their corrupt and oppressive policies.”

 

Tags Antony Blinken Cuba Jen Psaki Joe Biden Marco Rubio Mike Pompeo State sponsor of terrorism list Ted Cruz

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