Cubans hail US terror list removal

Published: Wednesday 15th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Cuban officials and ordinary citizens alike hailed the island’s removal from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

They said the move by President Barack Obama heals a decades-old insult to national pride and clears the way to swiftly restore diplomatic relations.

“The Cuban government recognises the president of the United States’ just decision to take Cuba off a list in which it should never have been included,” Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s senior diplomat for US affairs, said.

Cuban and US foreign-policy experts said the two governments appeared to have taken a major leap toward the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington after four months of complex and occasionally frustrating negotiations.

In a message to Congress, Mr Obama said Cuba’s government “has not provided any support for international terrorism” over the last six months and has given “assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future”.

Cuba will officially be removed from the terrorism list 45 days after the president’s message was sent to Congress. Politicians could vote to block the move during that window, though Mr Obama would be all but certain to veto such a measure.

What remains to be seen in coming weeks is whether Cuba will allow US diplomats to move around Cuba and maintain contacts with citizens including dissidents, the second point of contention in the negotiations on restoring full diplomatic relations.

Cuba is highly sensitive to any indication the US is supporting domestic dissent and that issue may prove considerably tougher than amending the terrorism list.

The Obama administration made little pretence in recent years that it believed Cuba was supporting terrorism.

Cuba was put on the list in 1982 because of what the US said were its efforts “to promote armed revolution by organisations that used terrorism”.

That included support for leftist guerilla groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Basque separatist movement ETA in Spain.

Cuba also sheltered black and Puerto Rican militants who carried out attacks in the US. Among those was Joanne Chesimard, who was granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped from a US prison where she was serving a sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973.

Cuba renounced direct support for militant groups years ago and is sponsoring peace talks between the FARC and Colombia’s government.

For Cubans, the terrorism list was a particularly charged issue because of the US history of supporting exile groups responsible for attacks on the island, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight from Barbados that killed 73 people.

The attack was linked to Cuban exiles with ties to US-backed anti-Castro groups, and both men accused of masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada Carriles, still lives.

“It’s really good that they finally took us off the list even though the reality is that we never should have been there,” said Rigoberto Morejon, a member of the Cuban national fencing team who lost three training partners in the bombing.

Beyond the emotional impact, the terrorism list hit Cuba’s ability to do business internationally.

The perceived and real risks of doing business with a country on the list made it highly difficult for Cuba to do business with foreign banks.

The listing also prevented US representatives at the World Bank and other global financial bodies from approving credit for Cuba, which is increasingly strapped for cash.

Mr Obama’s decision was welcomed on the streets of Havana.

“Finally!” said Mercedes Delago, a retired accountant. “The door’s opened a little more. That’s always good.”

Published: Wednesday 15th April 2015 by The News Editor

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