Terrorism With a "Twist"?

Monday, May 4, 2009
by Joaquin Ferrao*
Special to Capitol Hill Cubans

A recent story in The Miami Herald, "Cuba on Terror List, With Twist," which reports on the State Department's decision to list Cuba as one of four remaining state sponsors of terrorism -- along with Iran, Syria and Sudan -- includes insinuations by opponents of U.S. policy that the soft language and tone used in the Cuba portion is a first step by the Obama Administration towards delisting the Cuban regime.
For the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism ("Reports") to recognize positive developments in Cuba, or other state sponsors, is not new.  But more importantly, all the Reports since at least 1996 have consistently met one common threshold -- the use of Cuba as a safe haven for terrorists, terrorist groups, or suspects accused of terrorist acts.  Legally, that puts Cuba in the category of a state sponsor of terrorism in accordance with 22 U.S.C. Sec. 2656f. 
While the 2008 delisting of North Korea in exchange for that regime's cooperation on six party talks might call into question the political independence of these Reports, language and tone "per se" are poor indicators of any supposed warming of relations with Cuba.  

Inarguably, the language on Cuba has been tougher in some years and woefully weak in others.  For example, in 2006, the State Department gave Havana credit for demanding "that the United States surrender Luis Posada Carriles, whom it accused of plotting to kill Castro and bombing a Cubana Airlines plane in 1976, which resulted in more than 70 deaths."  Furthermore, in 2001, the State Department specifically cited Fidel Castro and gave Cuba credit for "undertaking an effort to demonstrate Cuban support for the international campaign against terrorism," lauding them for having "signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism at the 2001 summit."
Contrast this to the 2003 Report, where Cuba was strongly condemned for passing on false leads to U.S. officials during the investigations of 9/11, or the 2007 Report, where Cuba was singled out for its close ties to Iran and Syria. 

In 1998, President Bill Clinton's State Department labeled Cuba as a state sponsor while claiming that "Cuba no longer actively supports armed struggle in Latin America or elsewhere."  Unfortunately, in the 1997 Report, which covers 1996, the Clinton Administration failed to cite the Cuban regime for one of its most notorious acts of terrorism: the shooting of the Brothers to the Rescue ("BTTR") planes over international waters killing 4 U.S. persons including 3 U.S. citizens, a criminal act that remains outstanding. 
Thankfully, the State Department was more historically diligent with regards to the victims of the shoot down of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  As late as 2001, the Department still included this terrorist act in the Report for Libya, even though Quadafi had already surrendered the two Libyan intelligence operatives directly responsible for the terrorist attack to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.  In the case of the 1996 BTTR murders, the two Cuban air force pilots, their direct  commander, and a spy, remain at large under the protection of the Cuban regime despite being found guilty for this heinous crime by U.S. federal courts.  Perhaps the State Department might consider this for their next report.   

Joaquin Ferrao is a former senior official at the U.S. Department of State.