Trump hits Cuba with new terrorism sanctions in waning days

Clay Curtis
January 12, 2021

The Trump administration plans to return Cuba to the USA list of state sponsors of terrorism, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday, a move that could complicate any efforts by the incoming Biden administration to revive Obama-era detente with Havana.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on January 11 that the US government had been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to "oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere".

The move is the latest in a blitz of major decisions by Pompeo in his final days in office, with most of Washington focused on whether to remove Trump for inciting a deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6 of supporters who sought to stop the ceremonial certification of Biden's victory.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez condemned the USA action.

He said during the election campaign he would promptly reverse Trump policies on Cuba that "have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights".

The administration has also tightened economic sanctions on Cuba that include restrictions on remittances from the USA to Cuba. "The US political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims", he said on Twitter.

The designation carries a prohibition on US economic aid, a ban on USA arms exports, controls on "dual-use" items with military and civilian applications, and a requirement that the United States oppose loans to Cuba by institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Syria, Iran and North Korea are other countries on the list. As a result of Monday's actions, most travel from the U.S.to Cuba will be barred as well as the sending of remittances to Cuba from relatives in the United States, a significant source of income for the impoverished island.

Vintage cars drive on the seafront boulevard El Malecon in Havana
FILE- Vintage cars drive on the seafront boulevard El Malecon in Havana Cuba

After decades on the list - since 1982 - President Barack Obama removed Cuba from the official State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in 2015, claiming the evidence did not support a place for the regime on that list.

The US is expected to site Cuba's refusal to extradite fugitives. In addition to political refugee status, U.S. fugitives have received free housing, health care and other benefits thanks to Cuba's government, which insists the USA has no "legal or moral basis" to demand their return.

But perhaps the biggest change since Obama's outreach in 2015 is Cuba's strong support for Maduro, who is considered by the a dictator whose pilfering of the oil-based economy has driven 5 million Venezuelans from their homes.

The move will further undo Obama's initiatives.

The leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest active guerrilla group in Colombia, travelled to Havana as part of peace negotiations that collapsed after the attack.

Cuba has rejected such charges. He cited an armed attack on its embassy in Washington last April as one example.

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