WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

11 Jan 2021 | Press Release

U.S. State Department Decision to Place Cuba Back on the ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ List Hurts U.S. Interests, Cuban People

Washington, D.C.—Today, the U.S. State Department under the leadership of Secretary Mike Pompeo will return Cuba to the list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” reported Bloomberg. Cuba was first removed from that list in 2015, following a thorough months-long review carried out by professionals at the State Department and the intelligence community who concluded that Cuba was not a state sponsor of terror. While the U.S. government has since had continuing policy disagreements with Cuba throughout the course of the Trump administration, none of these disagreements have to do with the sponsorship of terrorism.

“Returning Cuba to this list is clearly a politically motivated decision, a reward to domestic political allies of the Trump administration during its last weeks, rather than an effective foreign policy step,” said WOLA President Geoff Thale.

The decision will have a number of negative repercussions. Internationally, it undermines the credibility of U.S. claims about what international actors are involved in terrorist activities. It will complicate the Biden administration’s expected efforts to rebuild more constructive U.S.-Cuba relations. Just as importantly, it will cause further economic hardships for Cuban families and ordinary citizens in an economy already weakened by the impact of COVID-19, ongoing challenges in implementing reforms, and years of U.S. imposed restrictions.

“The decision to place Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism is a last ditch effort by the Trump administration to entrench its legacy of rollbacks on U.S. policy towards Cuba,” said Thale. “It’s a vindictive step that will harm the Cuban people, and do nothing that genuinely advances human rights or U.S. interests”

Added WOLA Senior Fellow William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University:

“The State Department’s 2015 review of Cuba’s behavior was thorough and decisive in concluding that Cuba did not belong on the state sponsors of terrorism list. Nothing has changed since then. The Trump administration’s re-designation of Cuba as a state sponsor is unwarranted and is a transparently political move designed to damage President-elect Biden’s ability to govern—just like almost everything Donald Trump has done since he lost the election on November 3.”

For a roadmap outlining how the Biden-Harris administration can implement a policy of engagement toward Cuba, in order to better advance the interests of both the U.S. and Cuban people, see WOLA’s recent report with the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA): The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement.