Stating the Obvious — Obama says Cuba’s not a Terror State

Here at Cuba Central, the remarkable changes in U.S.-Cuba relations have inflicted collateral damage on two of our most cherished metaphors.

Once, we were fond of the phrase, “U.S.-Cuba policy is stuck in the amber of its own ineffectiveness.” But, after the 2009 and 2011 travel and remittance reforms, the policy started to be unstuck. So, we retired it.

Today, we sadly wave goodbye to our beloved comparison of Cuba policy to “the self-licking ice cream cone.”

The “self-licking ice cream cone,” a phrase invented by Brigadier General Simon P. Worden, describes a process “that offers few benefits and exists primarily to justify or perpetuate its own existence” — as in the case of Alan Gross.

Before Alan Gross was freed from prison as part of last December’s diplomatic breakthrough, hardliners declared that the Obama administration should not negotiate for his release or change a single word of U.S. sanctions policy until he was freed unconditionally.

Hardliners applied the same pretzel logic to Cuba’s false designation as a state sponsor of terror. So long as Cuba remained on the list, they could brandish the argument that Americans shouldn’t visit or spend money there, in order to defend pointless and self-defeating policies like the ban on travel, which amounts to an abridgement of our basic rights as Americans.

With the elegant simplicity of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’ 133-character tweet — “Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove #Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism” — the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations caused the “self-licking ice cream cone” metaphor to melt in our hands.

To President Obama, the evidence spoke for itself.

Even the Miami Herald found this logic compelling. Its editorial board responded to the news of Cuba’s delisting by admitting that the designation no longer fit Cuba and no longer reflected the world as it had become:

“As politically unpalatable as it may seem, the Obama administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an inevitable bow to reality… Crossing Cuba off the list should not be deemed a reward but an acknowledgment of the change in behavior.”

But of course we can still count the Cold Warriors in Congress as unconvinced. They clutched the ice cream cone as if it hadn’t melted, as if the world hasn’t changed, as if the evidence and the powerful affirmation of the most influential historically pro-sanctions hometown newspaper meant nothing.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL- 25) said in a statement, “Today, the administration has jeopardized U.S. national security by choosing to absolve the Castro dictatorship of its dangerous anti-American terrorist activities across the globe.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, on his first day as a presidential candidate, declared, “Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism,” and blasted the decision as a “chilling message to our enemies abroad that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”

Dumfounding, to say the least.

Diaz-Balart’s stand might cost the Miami Herald a subscription or two, but CNN points out that Rubio’s absolute commitment to keeping sanctions on Cuba is likely to cost him Cuban American votes in his presidential campaign in Florida, as well as millennial votes across the country. He is on the wrong side of history and the generational divide.

As Latino Decisions wrote recently, Cuban American hardliners represent “a generation that is out-of-step with younger Cubans and the broader Latino electorate in Florida. Looking forward to the 2016 presidential election, U.S. relations with Cuba will not mobilize Cuban-American voters, and to the degree that it does, it will be in support of opening the island to American commerce and values.”

In other words, the choice between living in the past and the future has more than political ramifications.

Like denying the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and the economic and environmental damage it is already doing in Florida and elsewhere, denying that diplomacy offers a greater chance than sanctions at realizing the values that most Americans and Cubans share leaves the hardliners look locked in a bygone age.

Diplomats for Cuba and the U.S. have already met to hammer out a framework for discussing human rights. They will soon sit down to exchange views on the return of fugitives from justice currently enjoying refuge in Cuba and the U.S.

Differences on problems like human rights matter. Unless we give diplomacy the chance to work, we can never know if those differences can be reconciled — or resolved to the satisfaction of all — but this is the choice demanded by changing times.

So we must ask opponents of normalization: Do you live in the present or the past? Do you live in the world of sanctions or diplomacy? Do you live in the world, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, that’s busy being born or dying?

As the ground shifts beneath the feet of our leaders, those are the questions they must answer.

ANNOUNCEMENT:

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is offering a special opportunity to bring our supporters to Cuba and support CDA’s work to end the embargo.

Last December, President Obama announced sweeping reforms in U.S. policy toward Cuba. You are invited to be part of our people-to-people trip to celebrate this historic policy victory and to hear from the people that this change will benefit most — Cubans. We will meet with young entrepreneurs, students, and artists about their renewed optimism for the future now that President Obama has significantly eased sanctions and allowed for greater exchange and dialogue between our countries.

The trip will take place June 17-22. Space is limited, so please contact us if as soon as possible you are interested in joining us or if you would like more information.

You — our supporters — were part of this historic diplomatic opening. We sincerely hope you take this opportunity to celebrate with us.

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

President Obama approves Cuba’ removal from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List

Following his historic meeting with President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas last weekend, President Obama announced his intention to remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that (are) relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” a White House press release says. “That determination is based on the statutory standard… and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

President Obama requested a State Department review of Cuba’s designation last December. The State Department concluded its review last Thursday, and certified as the law requires that “the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period and… has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

Writing of the president’s decision, the Miami Herald’s editorial board said, “As politically unpalatable as it may seem, the Obama administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an inevitable bow to reality. Cuba remains a repressive, one-party police state, but it no longer exports subversion throughout the hemisphere as it did when the Reagan administration placed it on the list in 1982.

President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the list triggered a statutorily mandated report to Congress, which now has 45 days to review the report before the rescission takes effect. Opponents of the move are unlikely to have the votes to block his decision from taking effect.

As Secretary of State Kerry said in transmitting the report to the White House, “Cuba was originally designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America.” But, as Richard Clark, a counterterrorism adviser to the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush Jr. administrations later admitted, Cuba remained on the list “not because they were sponsoring terrorism… it was because of U.S. domestic political reasons.”

The State Department’s 2013 report said “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.” Libya was removed from the list in 2006, and North Korea was taken off in 2008.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said the removal of Cuba’s designation will help both the U.S. and Cuba: “Now it will be easier for the island’s economy to recover, for banking service to Cuba’s U.S. consular operations to be resumed, and for U.S. banks and global companies to do business with Cuba. This should also help U.S. relations with the Western Hemisphere following the historic Seventh Summit of the Americas, so we applaud the President’s decision.”

Financial institutions that do business with countries that are designated by the U.S. as sponsors of terror risk hefty fines from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Cuba’s removal from the list will make it easier for Cuba to engage in international transactions, and may enable Cuban diplomats in the U.S. who have been without banking services for over a year to conduct normal consular services.

President Obama’s decision also removes what Cuba, itself a victim of terrorist attacks from Miami exiles, has long considered an affront to its national dignity.

While Cuba’s government welcomed the move, it was quick to point out that many key sanctions remain, including stringent financial restrictions under the Helms-Burton and Cuban Democracy Acts.

Summit of the Americas concludes with historic Obama-Castro meeting

As the seventh Summit of the Americas came to a close last weekend in Panama, President Obama and President Castro sat down for the first meeting of heads of state from Cuba and the United States since President Eisenhower met with then-president Fulgencio Batista in 1958 — a meeting that, coincidentally, also took place in Panama.

After the meeting, which lasted one hour, President Obama told reporters, “What we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility… And over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

“We are disposed to talk about everything,” including human rights and freedom of the press, said President Castro. “Some things we will agree with, and others we won’t.”

The meeting came after a plenary session of regional leaders at which animosity toward the U.S. had lessened noticeably since the last Summit, during which, as The New York Times writes, “[President Obama] was scolded by Argentina’s president for maintaining an ‘anachronistic blockade,’ lectured by Bolivia’s president about behaving ‘like a dictatorship,’ and in 2012 blamed for the failure of leaders to agree on a joint declaration – the result, his Colombian host said, of the dispute over Cuba.”

President Castro, whose 48-minute speech sharply criticized U.S. interventions in Latin America, paused during his remarks to apologize to President Obama. “I apologize to him because President Obama has no responsibility for” past U.S. policy toward Cuba. “In my opinion, President Obama is an honest man,” he added.

President Obama’s remarks focused on his administration’s determination to break from a Cold War past and start a “new chapter of engagement” in Latin America sparked by a rapprochement with Cuba.

“I am the first one to acknowledge that America’s application of concern around human rights has not always been consistent. And I’m certainly mindful that there are dark chapters in our own history in which we have not observed the principles and ideals upon which the country was founded,” Obama said. “So I just want to make very clear that when we speak out on something like human rights, it’s not because we think we are perfect, but it is because we think the ideal of not jailing people if they disagree with you is the right ideal.”

Cuba agrees to discuss U.S. fugitives

President Obama said in a message to Congress on Wednesday that Cuba’s government has agreed to address U.S. concerns about American fugitives that have been granted asylum on the island, the AP reports.

“Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement dialogue with the United States that will include discussions with the aim of resolving outstanding fugitive cases,” the message says. “We believe that the strong U.S. interest in the return of these fugitives will be best served by entering into this dialogue with Cuba.”

It is estimated that around 70 American fugitives reside in Cuba, among them Black Liberation Army member JoAnne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who was convicted for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. She escaped prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba in 1984, where she was granted political asylum.

Many New Jersey lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Menendez and Governor Chris Christie, had demanded that the Obama Administration make Shakur’s extradition one of several preconditions before removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terror list.

An extradition treaty between Cuba and the U.S. that took effect in 1905 has not been used effectively by the governments since 1959. Most extraditions that have taken place between the countries, including the 2013 return of a couple that had kidnapped their own children from their legal custodian and sailed to the island, were arranged informally.

Cuba’s government has demanded that the U.S. extradite Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA-backed Cuban national implicated in the 1976 bombing of Air Cubana Flight 455, which killed all 73 passengers, and a string of hotel bombings which resulted in the deaths of numerous tourists.

CheapAir.com first online booking site to offer direct flights to Cuba

CheapAir.com became the first online travel service to offer direct flights to Cuba, announcing Wednesday that it would be partnering with Cuba Travel Services to book nonstop flights from New York, Tampa, and Miami, USA Today reports.

In February, CheapAir.com became the first booking website to offer flights to Cuba in a single online transaction, but those flights traveled through a third country like Mexico or Panama before flying to Cuba.

“Once we starting doing that, we were approached by Cuba Travel Services, which has done charters to Cuba for many years,” said CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee. “We were intrigued with the idea of integrating their inventory.”

The only flights currently operating between the U.S. and Cuba are scheduled by charter companies used predominantly by Cuban-Americans returning to the island to visit their families. The new Department of Treasury regulations released in January allow commercial airlines to begin offering regularly scheduled flights to the island, but such flights will not take place until a civil aviation agreement is reached between the countries — a process that could take as long as a year.

Sprint begins prepaid mobile phone services to Cuba

Boost Mobile, owned by cell phone service provider Sprint, began offering prepaid plans for calling and texting Cuba from the U.S., Reuters reports. The service was launched in Miami, where some 2 million Cuban Americans with relatives on the island reside.

Part of the sweeping reforms in U.S. policy toward Cuba that were enacted in January was a provision allowing for greater exports of telecommunications products and services to Cuba. Since then, Netflix has launched on the island, and Amazon is said to be considering an expansion into the Cuban market.

In March, New Jersey-based telecommunications company IDT corp. struck a deal with Cuba’s state run telecommunications firm to begin offering direct long-distance calling between the two countries.

Senator Marco Rubio candidacy for president

Senator Marco Rubio (FL), a leading opponent of President Obama’s move to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, announced his intention to run for president in 2016 on Monday, CNN reports.

After President Obama announced sweeping changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba last December, Sen. Rubio said he would do everything in his power to block the establishment of a U.S. embassy in Havana. “I don’t care if the polls say that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” Rubio said in December. “This is my position, and I feel passionately about it.”

Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba in 1956, told NPR shortly after his announcement that, if elected president, he would reverse President Obama’s move to restore ties with Cuba’s government.

After the White House announced its intention to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, Rubio said the move “sends a chilling message to our enemies abroad that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Spain and Cuba in talks to extradite ETA members

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters in a press briefing Wednesday that Cuba and Spain have begun talks to extradite two members of the Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) organization, considered a terrorist group by Spain and the U.S., who have been living in Cuba since the 1980s.

“We have no information that Cuba has recently allowed any of these ETA members to plan or finance, lead or commit acts of international terrorism while residing in Cuba,” Rathke said.

“And additionally, for those two ETA members whom Spain has requested extradition, Cuba and Spain have agreed to a bilateral process to resolve that matter, and that’s now underway. The Government of Spain has assured the Government of the United States that it is satisfied with this process.”

Last month, Spain asked the U.S. to use the diplomatic channels established by the Obama Administration last year to push for the extradition of ETA members José Angel Urtiaga and José Ignacio Extarte, wanted since 2010 for allegedly carrying out grenade-launching tests with FARC members in Venezuela.

The guerrilla war waged by the Basque separatists against Spanish authority claimed over 800 lives before a ceasefire was reached in 2011. Cuba was one of the many countries that supported the peace agreement between Spain’s government and the ETA, ending the longest violent conflict in European history.

Venezuela’s President Maduro meets with Fidel Castro

Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro met with President Castro on Monday on his way back from Panama after the Summit of the Americas, the AFP reports. Fidel Castro, who stepped aside as Cuba’s leader in 2006 because of health problems, was a mentor to Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chávez, who passed away in 2013.

In March, Castro wrote an open letter to President Maduro in Granma expressing solidarity with Venezuela and criticizing U.S. sanctions against several Venezuelan officials enacted last month by President Obama. “Venezuela has stated precisely that it is always ready for peaceful and civilized discussion with the U.S. government, but it will never accept threats or impositions on the country,” the letter said.

Colombia-FARC peace talks hit obstacle

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday that he has instructed Generals of Colombia’s Army to resume air raids on outposts of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) after an attack by the Marxist guerrillas left 11 Colombian soldiers dead, the AP reports.

Peace talks between the FARC and Colombia’s government have been underway in Havana since 2012, and the opposing sides have reached tentative agreements on a plan to bring an end to the 50 year-old civil conflict, which has taken some 220,000 lives and displaced 5.3 million people. Cuba has earned international praise for promoting peace between the government and the rebels.

In December, the FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire with the condition that Colombia’s Army not carry out attacks on FARC forces until a final peace deal is reached. President Santos rejected the conditions of the ceasefire, citing previous attempts by the FARC to use temporary truces to build up military power, but he did temporarily suspend air raids on rebel camps, which many saw as a signal that a final agreement in the peace negotiations was near.

FARC commander Pastor Alape blamed the incident on Colombia’s government’s unwillingness to enter a bilateral ceasefire. President Santos again rejected the idea of a truce while reaffirming his commitment to the peace negotiations.

Pope Francis weighing Cuba visit

Pope Francis is considering visiting Cuba before or after his September trip to the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports. During his U.S. visit, the pope is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress and the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Last weekend, a representative from the Vatican was present at the Summit of the Americas for the first time in the summit’s history. Last fall in the Vatican, Pope Francis, a native of Argentina who served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, hosted the final of a series of secret meetings between the U.S. and Cuba to finalize the terms of the historic rapprochement announced by President Obama and President Castro in December.

IN CUBA

Cuba commemorates Bay of Pigs invasion

This week, Cuba is commemorating the 54th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which some 1,400 members of an anti-Castro paramilitary group were trained and equipped by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and sent on a failed mission to invade Cuba and overthrow then-Prime Minister Fidel Castro.

Over 150 Cubans were killed in the air raids and ground invasion, as were 108 members of the U.S.-backed forces.

Recommended Reading

Editorial: Right time to take Cuba off terror list, Tampa Bay Times

“For years, the United States has not had a legitimate reason for keeping Cuba on its list of nations that sponsor terrorism,” reads this editorial in the Tampa Bay Times. President Obama’s move to remove Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror could not have come soon enough for those who believe that “a determination of whether Cuba sponsors terrorism should be based on facts,” as opposed to decades-old disputes.

A New Era for U.S.-Cuba Relations, with an Old Ideological Divide, Jaime Hamre, Americas Quarterly

The meeting between President Obama and President Castro at the recent Summit of the Americas represents another step in historic changes to the U.S.-Cuba relationship, as well as improvements to the U.S. image across the region, writes Hamre, a former Rivers Fellow at the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

The future of Cuba’s socialist ice-cream cathedral, Jason Motlagh, The Guardian

The new approach to Cuba policy announced by President Obama last year has already sparked an increase in travel to the island, but what the thaw means for Coppelia, an ice cream parlor in Havana built on Fidel Castro’s order in 1966, is not certain.

American Flags Popping Up in Cuba on Everything but a Pole, Randal Archibold, The New York Times

“The diplomatic thaw between the United States and Cuba has been accompanied by an unexpected outburst of flag-waving [in Havana] — of the American flag… Of course, there is one place the flag is not yet popping up.” That’s the U.S. Interests Section, which has served as a de facto embassy in Havana for decades, despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations. Now that talks are under way to restore ties, the stars and stripes could soon fly over a newly inaugurated U.S. embassy.

Singer-songwriter Carlos Varela seeks to bridge U.S. and Cuba audiences, Saundra Amrhein, Reuters

While negotiations between the United States and Cuba have recently brought the two countries closer together, Cuban artist Carlos Varela has gained international recognition for his music that has “earned him a following on both sides of the Florida Straits despite their Cold War divide.” Varela says, “regardless of how long the governments take to restore relations… artists have outpaced them.”

TIME 100 Most Influential People: Raúl Castro, Rachel Kushner, TIME Magazine

“Raúl, I wager, will insist that the U.S. respect Cuba’s right to sustain some form of socialism and protect its main achievements, such as education and universal health care,” Kushner writes. “But the real question is can Cuba manage to do so, despite the destabilizing influx of foreign capital that will be sure to follow this historic rapprochement.”

Cuba off the U.S. terrorism list: Goodbye to a Cold War relic, The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

“Dropping Cuba from the terrorism list is part of a welcome dismantling of the isolation wall the U.S. erected more than half a century ago. Now Congress should lift its embargo, and the administration should continue to loosen restrictions on travel, trade and international banking. It’s time to let the echoes of the Cold War die out.”

Recommended Viewing

Yoani Sánchez y su reto profesional con 14ymedio, Yahoo Noticias

Yahoo Noticias interviews Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez about the role technology has played in her life as an independent journalist.

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