The removal of Cuba from the list of nations that “do not fully cooperate” within the fight against terrorism might be a harbinger of a broader rapprochement – ​​if politics allows it

The US State Department away Cuba faraway from the list of nations that don’t cooperate ‘fully’ within the fight against terrorism, but you can be forgiven for not noticing.

The news got here without much fanfare: there was no press release and no public admission from President Joe Biden.

Rather, the choice was communicated by a spokesman for the ministry. who explained relatively dryly that“The circumstances for classifying Cuba as a 'non-fully cooperating country' have changed from 2022 to 2023.”

Despite the cautious announcement, Cuba's removal from the list is a giant deal. Counter-terrorism expert As a former U.S. State Department official who led the administration's counterterrorism sanctions initiatives, I view the newest move as a possible step toward rapprochement between Washington and Havana.

Delisting of Cuba

After the removal of Cuba, only North Korea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela remain on the list. adopted within the Nineteen NinetiesWhile being designated as a “not fully cooperating country” has few legal consequences, it does give pause to people, corporations and countries that may otherwise wish to do business with these states.

In some respects, the US State Department's announcement to remove Cuba from the list falls wanting actual practice.

Cooperation between the United States and Cuba on law enforcement issues is already underway. have restarted in 2023.

And on February 7, 2024, representatives from each countries took part in a Meeting of the US-Cuban Dialogue on Law Enforcementwhich promotes cooperation between the police of each countries – the sixth meeting of this type since 2015.

This meeting in February made it all of the more likely that Cuba can be faraway from the list of “not fully cooperating” states, which is reviewed annually by law. The query now could be what this implies for Cuba’s status within the United States as a “State sponsor of terrorism”, or SST – could that even be checked?

Unlike the list of “non-fully cooperating” states, there isn’t a obligation to review annually or at every other time who’s designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.

On and on and off again

Cuba has repeatedly appeared and disappeared from the list of states that support terrorism. The communist island state was First classified as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982 by the Reagan administration. Cuba's support for left-wing militant groups equivalent to the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia within the Nineteen Eighties was cited by U.S. authorities as justification for the listing.

The Obama administration Cuba faraway from the list in April 2015, once we concluded that many years of sanctions against the country had had no effect – Cuba maintained its communist ideology. In short, we on the State Department thought it was time to take a brand new policy approach toward Cuba.

Cuban President Raúl Castro meets Barack Obama in Havana in 2016, as relations between the countries improved.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Donald Trump waited until the tip of his four-year term to Add Cuba again the list – after which needed to rush to achieve this before leaving the White House.

In fact, the choice was made so late that the notice within the Federal Register legalizing the choice published on 22 January 2021after the inauguration of Trump’s successor Biden.

According to the US Embassy in Havana, the Trump administration motivated by Cuba's refusal to extradite 10 ELN leaders live in Havana.

But national security experts have criticized the choiceand identified that Cuba has not actively supported groups equivalent to the ELN and FARC for many years.

In addition, the Trump administration’s reason for putting Cuba back on the list of states that support terrorism disappeared in August 2022, when Colombia suspended the arrest warrant against the ELN commanders that it had previously requested the extradition of.

In the hands of Havana

The consequences of being registered as a state sponsor of terrorism are more serious than those of a “non-fully cooperating” state. Include restrictions on US development aid, bans on the export and sale of defense goods and certain dual-use items, and various financial bans.

Cuba stays subject to those restrictions and these under the Trading With the Enemy Act – a law from 1917 that has been in force in Cuba since Missile crisis of the early Sixties.

Cuba will due to this fact not gain any immediate profit from being faraway from the list of “non-fully cooperating” states.

While countries that don’t fully cooperate with US anti-terrorism efforts Prohibition on receiving defense services or itemsDue to other restrictions, Washington is currently unable to contemplate exporting military equipment to Cuba.

Therefore, the recent removal from the State Department's list is more vital since it signals that the United States is curious about expanding its relations with Cuba. However, Cuba's placement on the list of states that sponsor terrorism – and Trade restrictions under the Trading with the Enemy Act – won’t make this any easier.

But that might not be the purpose. The removal of Cuba from the list of “not fully cooperating” countries can relatively be seen as a litmus test for the Cuban government’s willingness to reform.

Whether the United States responds to the status change by deciding to remove Cuba from the list of states, to phase out restrictions on trade with the enemy, and even to normalize relations is entirely within the hands of the Cuban leadership. The next step is as much as them. They could have to display reforms on several levels – economic, social, and political.

But that can take time. Such reforms would require a fundamental restructuring of your entire Cuban system, which in turn would require a rigorously managed transition from state communism.

Engagement: An electoral risk?

But Cuba can now begin to display – successfully – that it should proceed the fight against terrorism.

In this regard, the outcomes of the last evaluation of Cuba by the intergovernmental Working Group on Financial Measures in 2015 and the body Follow-up report 2022 are promising.

Cuba meets or largely complies with 38 of the Task Force's 40 recommendations on terrorist financing. Financing of dissemination and money laundering.

If Cuba can display improvements within the two remaining areas – ensuring that nonprofits are usually not abused by terrorism financiers and that recent technologies are usually not used to finance nefarious activities – it could give the Biden administration more political leverage to start the strategy of reviewing Cuba's status as a state sponsor of terrorism.

A woman holds up a sign that says
Will relations with Cuba be an election issue in Florida?
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

This influence is especially vital in a US election yr wherein Trump is increasingly attempting to position Biden as a weak leader on the international stageA dramatic change in policy without concessions from Cuba may benefit this narrative. It could also pose an electoral risk, especially in Floridawhere many anti-communist Cuban emigrants live.

No more enemies?

Washington's last serious try and pull Cuba out of crisis failed. When the Obama administration removed Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism in 2015, it didn’t get enough jump begin to see if it could dissuade Havana from communism before the Trump administration modified course.

The Obama administration's removal from the list was reversed after nearly five years, not enough time to check the speculation that a greater deal could persuade Havana to show away from communism.

The recent move to remove Cuba from the list of “not fully cooperating” countries could also develop into a victim of politics, depending on the final result of the US elections in November.

But the premise behind the State Department’s decision – much like the Obama administration’s removal of Cuba from the SST list – is that Personal interaction is the most effective approach to dissuade Cubans from an ideology, communism, which they’ve failed with regard to their economic well-being and political freedom.

And such a commitment takes time – greater than the 4 years of a US president’s term in office.

It also requires patience, persistence and a willingness to contemplate lifting sanctions. After all, successful engagement and political change are difficult to realize in case you proceed to label your potential partner as an “enemy” and a “sponsor of terrorism.”

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