Friday, February 20, 2015

Cuba sees Obama terror promise as healing of historic wound

Cuba sees Obama terror promise as healing of historic wound
02/19/2015 12:19 PM 02/19/2015 12:19 PM

A year after he took office, President Ronald Reagan placed Cuba on a
list of state sponsors of terror for backing leftist guerrilla groups in
Central and South America.

Cuba remained on the list as the Soviet Union fell, Fidel Castro stopped
aiding insurgents and the global focus on terrorism turned to the
Mideast. For outside observers, Cuba's place on the list was a Cold War
relic that showed the power of the communist government's enemies in
Congress. For Cuba, it became the most potent symbol of what many here
call five decades of bullying by the superpower to the north.

Now, as the two countries move to end a half-century of acrimony,
President Barack Obama has made clear that he will take Cuba off the
terror list, saying in a televised address on his new Cuba policy late
last year that "at a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda
to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of
terrorism should not face this sanction."

Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs heads to Washington next week for a
second round of talks on restoring ties. Cubans ranging from President
Raul Castro to ordinary citizens describe their country's removal from
the list as one of the most important elements of that detente, one that
could help heal a great injustice. In Cuban eyes, they are the victims
of terror, not the U.S.

For Cubans, the worst act of aggression against the island since its
1959 revolution occurred when 73 people aboard a Cuban passenger flight
from Barbados to Havana died in a 1976 bombing blamed on exiles with
ties to U.S.-backed anti-Castro groups. Both of the men accused of
masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada
Carriles, lives quietly to this day.

"This is a small country and everybody knows somebody who knows someone
who was on that plane," said Juan Carlos Cremata, a film and theater
director who was 13 when his father, a 41-year-old airline dispatcher,
was killed in what Cubans call "the Crime of Barbados."

"The U.S. is going to show that it's an intelligent country because the
most absurd, the most stupid thing in the world, is to put Cuba on a
list of terrorist nations," Cremata said.

Removal from the U.S. list could provide Cuba protection against
lawsuits inside the United States because inclusion on it strips
countries of important immunities that U.S. courts normally grant to
foreign governments.

With Cuba and the U.S. moving to tighten trade ties, protecting Cuba and
any U.S. corporate partners from lawsuits by people claiming to have
been harmed by the Castro government could prove essential.

"From the Cuban point of view, resolving this problem of the list also
resolves this type of concern," said Jesus Arboleya, an international
relations professor at the University of Havana who served as Cuban
consul in Washington from 1979 to 1982. "It isn't convenient for anyone
that they call Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism."

While removal from the terror list would have no direct impact on U.S.
sanctions against Cuba, it could also make it easier for international
banks to justify doing business with Cuba, said Robert L. Muse, an
attorney specializing in U.S. laws on Cuba.

The bank that handled transactions for Cuba's interests section in the
U.S. closed its account last year, leaving its diplomats dealing almost
exclusively in cash. The ability to reopen a U.S. bank account is one of
Cuba's most urgent demands in the negotiations to reopen embassies.
While that decision falls to individual banks, removal from the terror
list will make it easier.

"Its continuing presence on the list harms U.S. national interests
because it prevents a rapprochement," Muse said. "Cuba should be taken
off the list because it doesn't belong."

The other countries on the list are Iran, Sudan and Syria. Removing Cuba
requires Obama to send Congress a report certifying that the island
hasn't supported international terrorism for the past six months.
Forty-five days later, Cuba will be taken off unless the House and
Senate pass a joint resolution to block the move. Such a resolution
appears highly unlikely, although Cuban-American legislators in Congress
remain vehemently opposed to taking Cuba off the list because they say
Havana's behavior hasn't changed, even if circumstances have.

"Cuba continues to harbor members of foreign terrorist organizations as
well as fugitives from US justice who are responsible for the deaths of
Americans," said Brooke Sammon, a spokeswoman for Florida Republican
Sen. Marco Rubio. "Senator Rubio has seen no indication that the Castro
regime has fundamentally changed its behavior and is deserving of being
removed from the list."

Recent State Department reports on the list mention Cuba's sheltering
members of the Marxist guerrila group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC, and the Spanish Basque separatist group ETA. They
make little pretense that the U.S. actually considers Cuba to be a state
sponsor of terror.

"There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or
paramilitary training to terrorist groups," the State Department said in

Cuba is sponsoring ongoing peace talks between the FARC and the
Colombian government in Havana. And Spain's interest in members of the
Basque group living abroad has dwindled considerably in the last decade,
given a definitive ETA cease-fire in 2011 and the rising threat posed by
Islamist radicals.

The biggest potential problem for Cuba is posed by black and Puerto
Rican militants who fled there after carrying out attacks in the United
States. The fugitives include Joanne Chesimard, who changed her name to
Assata Shakur and was granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped
from the prison where she was serving a sentence for killing a New
Jersey state trooper in 1973.

Cuba has made clear that it has no intention of returning Chesimard,
particularly since the man it accuses of orchestrating the "Crime of
Barbados," Posada Carriles, has been living in Miami since a Texas
federal jury in 2011 acquitted him of lying to U.S. officials about his
role in a string of 1997 Havana hotel bombings that killed an Italian
tourist. The U.S. government has refused to turn him over for trial in
the Cubana bombing.

While few Cubans expect the U.S. to extradite Posada Carriles, many call
removing Cuba from the terror list a welcome measure nonetheless.

"It would be an extraordinary event for me, for my family and I think
for all the relatives of the victims," said Camilo Rojo, a lawyer who
was 5 when his father, an airline security guard, died on the flight.


Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Curt Anderson in
Miami contributed to this report.

Source: Cuba sees Obama terror promise as healing of historic wound |
The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

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