By W.T. Whitney Jr.
The Massachusetts congressional delegation was furious. The Biden administration had early on promised to remove Cuba from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT). Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern took comfort from Congress having been told the process was underway.
But at a closed-door congressional briefing in early December 2023, State Department official Eric Jacobstein told McGovern and others that, in fact, no decision had been made. He and Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Lori Trahan, Seth Moulton, Stephen Lynch, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, all Democrats, were aroused.
They took further offense on learning that a six-month-long review process has to play out before Cuba’s removal from the list.
They wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on Dec. 14, 2023, which, unaccountably, wasn’t made public until Jan. 2. The authors credited “President Obama and yourself after thorough review” for having removed Cuba from the list of SSOT nations in 2015, and for declaring “the designation is without merit.”
They denounced the “vindictive action taken by the Trump administration in January 2021” to restore the designation. They told Biden, “We believe the time to act and remove Cuba from the SSOT list is now – not months from now.”
The congresspersons noted that “In fact, Cuba and the United States have a functioning bilateral cooperation agreement on counterterrorism.” They mentioned that Colombian President Gustavo Petro had called for the lifting of the designation, thus shattering a US talking point in favor of it. Colombians identified as terrorists had actually come to Havana to represent the National Liberation Army insurgency in peace talks underway there.
The elected officials who met with Jacobstein pointed to a mounting humanitarian disaster in Cuba: “From the poorest and most vulnerable to the struggling private sector to religious, humanitarian and cultural actors, the Cuban people are enduring the most dire deprivations in recent memory – everyone is suffering.”
They identified Cuba’s placement on the SSOT list as a “significant contributing factor” to the suffering. Under US law, the Treasury Department penalizes those international banks and lending institutions that handle dollars on behalf of presumed terrorism-sponsoring nations, thus crippling much of Cuba’s global trade.
To avoid immense fines, international financial institutions steer clear of transactions with the island which, for the most part, have to involve dollars, the dollar being the dominant currency in international banking and commercial activities. Cubans confront a great wall preventing them from borrowing and often from receiving payments for exported goods. Money is short, they can’t readily import supplies and food, and they suffer.
The congresspersons cited economic hardship in Cuba as a major contributing factor to irregular Cuban migration into the United States, which is now massive. They implied that removing Cuba from the SSOT list would alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Cuba and thereby reduce migration.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López, conferring recently with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on migration, also asked that Cuba be removed from the list. At a congressional hearing in March 2023, Blinken reported, however, that Cuba had not met the administration’s “requirements to be removed.”
Suffering in Cuba has its fans in official Washington circles because of its potential role in converting Cubans into rebels against their own government. That line of thinking dates from a memorandum encouraging US policy to increase suffering in Cuba presented by State Department official Lestor Mallory in 1960.
Interviewed by Prensa Latina, Merri Ansara, a board member of Massachusetts Peace Action, associated the letter with “a campaign initiated eight months ago to unify the state of Massachusetts in calling for Cuba to be removed from the SSOT” list.
“We will now ask our elected representatives and senators in the state legislature to send a similar letter to Biden,” she promised, “and then we will ask our governor.”
A people’s campaign to remove Cuba from the SSOT list would not be new. By mid-September 2022, “more than 10,000 people and 100 progressive advocacy groups” had signed an open letter from Code Pink demanding that Biden do exactly that. Then, 160 US lawyers sent Biden a similar letter in January 2023. In December 2021, 114 members of Congress demanded that Biden give up on the entire anti-Cuban blockade, including the SSOT designation.
The current period is one of calamitous, distracting political events on every hand, with wars in Gaza and Ukraine raging and an electoral fight to stop the comeback of Trump fascism looming in the US. Nevertheless, the dam holding back the US people’s active opposition to their government’s anti-Cuban aggression will give way, sometime.
Reacting to the letter, Michael Galant of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, declared that, “Labeling Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism is a fiction with deadly consequences. It’s time for Biden to face facts and break with Trump on Cuba.” Most voters in both major parties oppose the blockade,” he asserted.
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