ICYMI: FATF Takes Cuba Off Its AML/CFT List! Wait, What?

Unless you cyber-troll the FATF website, you probably missed this item.

Last Friday, FATF congratulated Cuba for taking such strong actions to police its financial system that Cuba will no longer be monitored for its compliance with anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorist finance rules.

Be patient. Don’t flip to the “Recommended Reading” section just yet. This is about Cuba’s false and unfair listing by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terror.

FATF is actually a thing, not just a bad acronym: The Financial Action Task Force. It was created in 1989 at meeting of the G-7 nations to combat money-laundering and, after September 11, 2001, its mandate expanded to cover terrorist financing.

Countries that fail to embrace and enforce its rules suffer consequences. As the Wall Street Journal reports, it is “difficult for those nations to transact with the banking systems” of countries throughout the world, costing them billions.

If countries out of step with FATF are also subject to U.S. sanctions (e.g. the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states), their problems multiply. As a practical matter, they are locked out of the global financing sector, which could deny them “billions of dollars in potential investment,” according to one analysis.

Cuba knows this well.

Cuba was added to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in 1982, when the Reagan administration decided to play politics with counter-terrorism, a dangerous game taken up by every White House since. Listen to Dick Clarke, a career civil servant who advised three U.S. presidents on counter-terrorism policy, explain why Cuba stayed on the list in the 1990s; it wasn’t because Cuba supported terrorism, but rather it was for purely domestic political reasons.

Because no administration has been as candid as Mr. Clarke, they have kept Cuba on the list, but shifted their rationales for doing so as circumstances warranted.

At the start, the U.S. government accused Cuba of supporting insurgencies in Africa and Latin America. While Cuba’s activist foreign policy once involved supporting armed insurrection abroad, Cuba has long since ended these practices, as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) explains.

In 2004, the Bush administration called out Cuba for publicly opposing Washington’s “War on Terror,” not for supporting terror but for voicing criticism of U.S. policies. This was a flimsy charge, but it took the State Department a few years to drop it.

As recently as 2011, the State Department has used Cuba’s failure to meet FATF standards to justify its presence on the terror list: “Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF. It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body.” Then, things changed.

Just a year later, State reported that “Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.”

By the time the Department issued its 2013 report, all references to Cuba’s compliance with FATF’s standards had vanished completely.

So, remind us again, why is Cuba still on the terror list?

Even the State Department seemed confused when it released this year’s terror report which said, “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

In another sentence, State reported “Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” But, in the very next line, State said, “Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant.”

We also know that Spain’s government told former President Carter that “ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government,” and that Colombia, a close U.S. ally, is relying on Cuba as a host and facilitator for its peace talks with the FARC to help end their civil war.

This leaves only one allegation: “The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States.”

Here, the report refers to Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the U.S. for her role in the murder of a New Jersey state policeman, and to other so-called “militant groups” active in the U.S. decades ago. But, Cuba’s decision to allow them to live on the island is not an act tantamount to supporting terrorism.

Terrorism is a terrible thing. In 2013, the data show there were over 9,700 terror attacks worldwide that caused more than 17,800 deaths and 32,500 injuries. But not one casualty, not one act of violence was connected to Cuba.

So, if Cuba has zero connections to terrorism, why is it that when a reporter asked Marie Harf, the Spokesperson for State, “How much longer are you going to keep Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?” she replied by saying, “Well, it’s a good question that I know comes up a lot. The State Department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list”?

Of course, she could have offered a more candid answer. There’s just one thing holding up Cuba’s removal from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list, and it isn’t radical fugitives from the 1970s or 80s who found safe haven in Cuba.

It’s politics – and that’s a FATF, er, a fact.


UN votes against U.S. embargo for 23rd year in a row

In a rebuke to the United States, a nearly unanimous majority of member states in the UN General Assembly approved a resolution this week condemning the embargo against Cuba for the twenty-third consecutive year. As a measure of our isolation, Ernesto Londoño, writing for the New York Times, said, “Only Israel sided with the United States, although the Israelis were happy to forgo a turn at the podium to defend their position. Of the 193 members of the United Nations, 188 backed Cuba. The three abstentions — Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau — are not widely regarded as diplomatic heavyweights.”

But, the diplomatic heavyweights, allies and adversaries alike, lined up against the United States. Australia, the European Union, every nation in Africa and South America, the most populous nations on Earth, China and India, and countries like South Korea and Japan voted against, and in several cases denounced, our unilateral sanctions against Cuba, as well as the extraterritorial reach of our policy which inhibits trade between the island and global commercial interests.

Support for the resolution has increased since it was first introduced in 1992. At that time, 59 countries voted in support of Cuba, while 71 abstained and 46 chose not to vote. In recent years, the resolution has passed with near-unanimous support.

A representative from the Solomon Islands, speaking on behalf of 8 other Pacific island states, pleaded, “To our friend and partner the U.S., in the name of justice and human rights, replace confrontation with engagement. Allow the seeds of mutual cooperation to bear fruit.”

China called the embargo “unjustifiable,” especially in light of the recovering state of the global economy, while the representative from Egypt called the policy “a Cold War relic that is increasingly hard to justify politically or morally.”

When Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez took the podium, he highlighted the close cultural and historical ties that the U.S. and Cuba share, as well as the numerous times Cuba has worked alongside the U.S. in anti-terrorism efforts, in the wake of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and now in the fight against Ebola. Rodríguez’s call to “support the idea that today’s challenges can be addressed multilaterally” was met with widespread applause.

Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, standing in for the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, began his statement by contending that the embargo was simply the U.S. conducting its economic relationship with Cuba in accordance with “its national interests and its principles,” and closed by calling the resolution a distraction “from the real problems facing the Cuban people.”

His comments were echoed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) in her statement on the vote, when she said, “for the 23rd time, the representatives at the U.N. General Assembly have demonstrated their disconnection from the realities in Cuba by ignoring gross human rights violations and the lack of fundamental freedoms for the Cuban people as a result of Castro’s tyrannical regime.”

By contrast, Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2) commended the UN, saying:

“The 53-year-old economic embargo has not worked. It has not overturned the Cuban government. But it has done grave harm to the lives of ordinary Cubans and increasingly isolated the United States in the region, the hemisphere and the world. The Cold War is over. It’s time to change.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas released a statement about the vote, which can be read here.

U.S. official attends Ebola meeting in Havana

After the U.S. government has spent years dismissing the training and qualifications of Cuban doctors, and weeks distancing itself from Cuba’s leadership efforts against Ebola, the Center for Disease Control sent a top scientist to Cuba to coordinate the U.S. response with actions by the countries of Latin America.

Dr. Nelson Arboleda, the CDC’s director for Disease Control and Prevention for Central America, attended a meeting in Havana sponsored by the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), a regional intergovernmental organization founded by Cuba and Venezuela. In comments to reporters, Dr. Arboleda said, “This is a world emergency and we should all work together and cooperate in this effort.”

Dr. Arboleda’s presence at the meeting was denounced by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), who said:

“It is a disgrace that the United States sent a representative to an ALBA meeting in Havana and praised the Cuban dictatorship for sending forced medical labor to Western Africa…. That the U.S. would send a representative to such a meeting is by itself ludicrous.”

Cuba has already sent over two hundred medical workers to West Africa to help in Ebola treatment and prevention efforts, the largest contribution of any country so far, and it plans to send hundreds more.

As Ernesto Londoño wrote in the New York Times, “if there’s an upside to the Ebola crisis, it’s that it seems to be injecting a dose of pragmatism to Washington’s poisonous relationship with Havana.” As Cuba Central has previously reported, the U.S. position has warmed considerably toward Cuba’s role recently with UN Ambassador Samantha Power singling out Cuba for praise following her trip to West Africa this week, and now by sending Dr. Arboleda to Cuba for the ALBA meeting.

CDA Director Sarah Stephens’ response to the story can be read here.

Dozens of Cuban migrants rescued at sea

Two groups of Cuban migrants were rescued in the Florida Straits by the U.S. Coast Guard this week, according to reports by the Miami Herald and the AP.

The first rescue operation on Monday came to the aid of thirteen Cuban men whose handmade sea vessel broke apart four miles from the Miami shore. Part of the group managed to swim ashore, while five were rescued by helicopter and two remain missing. Another group of 33 migrants had abandoned their boat after it began taking on water just off the shores of Palm Beach County.

Migration from Cuba to the U.S. has increased this year, with the Coast Guard intercepting at least 3,722 Cubans in the Florida Straits since January. Under what is called the “wet-foot, dry-foot” provision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, migrants from Cuba who make it to U.S. soil are put on a path to residency, while those intercepted in the Florida Straits are repatriated.

According to a report by the AP, the lack of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba has made it difficult to identify the bodies of Cuban migrants that wash ashore, because pathologists from the U.S. cannot obtain dental records or DNA information from Cuba.

Cuba to build first Catholic Church since revolution with the help of Tampa parish

For the first time in 55 years, Cuba’s government has approved the construction of a new Catholic Church on the island, the AP reports. The construction of the church is being partially funded by St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida, which raised $45,000 from parishioner donations, according to the Tampa Tribune. The Church will be built in Sandino, a coffee-growing town in the Pinar del Rio Province.

The announcement marks a continuation of the shift in relations between the Vatican and Cuba, which in 1959 was declared an atheist state by Fidel Castro. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba’s government began loosening restrictions on religious expression. In 1998, Pope John Paul II made a public visit to the island, as did Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

“The construction of a church is clear demonstration of a new phase, of an improvement, in relations between the church and the state,” says Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor at the University of Havana.

Cuba re-emerges in final days of Miami congressional race

U.S. policy toward Cuba has become the focus of a heated congressional race between incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia (FL-26) and challenger Carlos Curbelo, the Miami Herald reports. Garcia drew criticism after sponsoring a campaign advertisement that features well-known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas.

In the ad, Fariñas appears to indirectly endorse Garcia, saying, “For decades, Joe Garcia has been a compatriot committed to our fight.” The ad drew accusations from Garcia’s political opponents, who claimed that Fariñas had been manipulated for political gain. Fariñas has defended his role in the advertisement. “At no point do I appear soliciting votes for any of the two specific candidates, so it’s clear that I’m not getting involved in the electoral contest,” he said. “I stand by what I said.”


Measures introduced to address shrinking population

President Castro’s administration has approved measures to stem a coming demographic crisis as Cuba’s population ages, Granma reports. The program that was adopted hopes to establish incentives for increasing the country’s fertility rate and to promote employment among elderly Cubans. The AP adds that Cuba’s government has opened dozens of new maternity units and fertility centers and has extended the length of paid maternity and paternity leave to a year, in some cases.

According to forecasts, the mortality rate in Cuba will overtake the fertility rate by 2027. In addition to the high cost of raising a child on the economically struggling island, factors contributing to the drop in the country’s birth rate are widespread participation of women in Cuba’s workforce, universal access to healthcare and family planning services.

Furthermore, most of the migrants who leave Cuba for the U.S. belong to younger demographics, a drain that, according to AFP, has contributed to the drop in Cuba’s population from 11.2 to 11.1 million in the last decade.

Hurricane Sandy reconstruction efforts pass halfway mark

Two years have passed since Hurricane Sandy struck Cuba’s eastern provinces, and 56% of the reconstruction has been completed, according to Granma. Some 171,000 homes in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest province, were damaged or destroyed by the hurricane when it struck in 2012. The provincial government hopes to complete the construction of 2,683 homes by the end of end of this year, in time for next year’s celebration of the 500-year anniversary of the founding of Santiago de Cuba.


United Kingdom expresses support for Cuba’s economic reforms

British Minister of State Hugo Swire has told reporters in Havana that his country supports the economic changes taking place in Cuba, and that he will seek to encourage a growth in investment and in business and diplomatic ties between the countries, EFE reports.

Swire was in Cuba on an official visit, during which he signed three agreements for cooperation in sports, business and investment, and consular services and bilateral relations. “For ten or more years no British minister has come to Cuba,” he said. “I am here to demonstrate that the United Kingdom has decided to support the economic changes that Cuba’s government is doing.”

Swire also praised Cuba’s contribution to Ebola prevention efforts in West Africa and their commitment to a peace agreement between Colombia’s government and the FARC.

The British MP’s comments come in the context of the negotiations currently taking place to define a new set of trade and diplomatic relations between Cuba and the European Union. Although European nations are free individually to engage with Cuba on their own terms, the EU suspended relations with the island in 1996 under its Common Position, which required “improvements in human rights and political freedom” and an “irreversible opening of the Cuban economy” for a full restoration of diplomatic ties.

As Cuba Central has previously reported, talks between the EU and Cuba began in April, and a second round was renewed in September.

CDA’s article in Americas Quarterly about how warming relations between Europe and Cuba should serve as a model for U.S. policy can be read here.

High-level FARC commanders attend Havana peace talks

Several high-ranking leaders from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group have joined peace negotiations between the FARC and Colombia’s government that are taking place in Havana, Reuters reports. Peace talks have been underway since 2012, and the opposing sides have reached tentative agreements on three points out of a five-point peace plan.

The group of FARC commanders present at the talks now includes Felix Muñoz and Henry Castellanos Garzon, who go by the noms-de-guerre Pastor Alape and Romana, respectively. Garzon, who leads the FARC’s military wing, is one of the most-wanted guerilla leaders for having orchestrated a series of mass kidnappings in the 1990s that generated millions of pesos in ransom.

On Sunday, the FARC put forward a proposition for a “national census of victims” that would record the number of victims claimed by the 50-year-old war, which has taken some 220,000 lives and has displaced 5.3 million. This week, FARC leaders accepted responsibility for the civilian casualties that have resulted from their various campaigns.

Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, has drawn criticism from right-wing politicians, led by former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe, for granting safe passage to Havana for FARC leaders, many of whom are still carrying out military campaigns in Colombia. Santos, however, defended his decision. “I know it’s difficult for a lot of people to see these figures who have done so much damage to the Colombian people,” he said. “But if we want peace, we have to make it with enemies.”

For up-to-the minute reporting on the peace negotiations, see “Colombia Calls,” published by Virginia Bouvier. For background information and press reports on the talks, see “Adam Isacson’s Latin America Blog.”

Ebola: Bolivia gets training from Cuba, Cuban health worker dies of Malaria

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales said he will send a team of six doctors and “technical professionals” to Havana for training in Ebola prevention efforts, AFP reports. After training, the team will return to Bolivia to help develop preventative measures in Bolivia’s three international airports.

Meanwhile, Jorge Juan Guerra, one of the hundreds of Cuban health workers deployed to West Africa to help fight the outbreak of Ebola, has died of Malaria in Conakry, Guinea, according to Granma. He was 60 years old. Guerra served abroad previously in a medical mission to Mali and tested negative for Ebola before passing away.

Recommended Reading

The Shifting Politics of Cuba Policy, The New York Times Editorial Board

A majority of the U.S. favors a renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The most recent editorial from the NYT editorial board surveys the political landscape that President Obama faces as he considers taking steps to restore ties with the island.

Mending U.S. Relations with Cuba, Letters to the Editor, The New York Times

New York Times readers weigh in on the embargo: “The road to normalization will face many obstacles, and one thing we must do to succeed is to approach the Cubans with far more respect than in the past,” writes CDA board member Manuel Gomez.

Spotlight: Cuba — How would both the United States and Cuba attending the Summit of the Americas impact their relationship?, Rachel DeLevie-Orey, Atlantic Council

DeLevie-Orey walks through three scenarios that could result from Cuba’s and the United States’ presence at the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama — (1) relations improve, (2) relations get worse, or (3) relations stay the same.

Obama Could Lift Sanctions Against Cuba After Next Week’s Election, Says Congressman, Michael E. Miller, Miami New Times

With an increasing likelihood of a meeting between President Obama and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro at the Summit of Americas, Miller discusses the possibility of President Obama making key moves to eliminating the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Afro-Cuban Culture at Havana’s Hamel Alley, Havana Times

Although small, Hamel Alley has become a popular stage for Afro-Cuban culture. Afro-Cuban artist Salvador Gonzales started the project in 1990 as a showcase of Afro-Cuban art, dance and music.

Recommended Viewig

Exclusive: Elián González reveals life experiences since returning to Cuba, Michael Voss, CCTV America

Elián González talks to CCTV’s Michael Voss about his life in Cuba after being at the center of the international custody battle that captured the U.S.’s attention in 2000. Since then, González has developed a close relationship with ex-President Fidel Castro while at the same time studying engineering and trying to avoid the spotlight.

Commentary on U.S. Embargo, Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC

Lawrence O’Donnell responds to the Washington Post’s defense of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

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