President Barack Obama has agreed to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism, a move which will undoubtedly help quell the decades-long hostilities between the two nations. This announcement was made by the White House on Tuesday, after a monumental meeting between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro at a summit in Panama. The Obama Administration’s decision to actively pursue diplomacy with Cuba has sparked criticism and debate within the Senate, with some believing Cuba’s 30-year occupation on the list is warranted.
Obama ordered a State Department review of Cuba’s relevancy to the state sponsors of terrorism list last December. The results of the evaluation showed that "the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period," the White House statement read, and the U.S. State Department recommended that the country be removed from the list.
This historic move could lead to further diplomatic relations between the two nations. As NPR reports, "the U.S. will ease travel and remittance policies; expand commercial sales and exports; and ease imports, including of tobacco products and alcohol. The U.S. will expand Cubans' access to the Internet and telecommunications." The lifting of the U.S. embargo, however, will require Congressional action, which Politico notes is unlikely in the GOP-controlled Senate and House.
Despite that obstacle, Obama said in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep that he hopes, “we can open an embassy there - that we can start having more regular contacts and consultations around a whole host of issues, some of which we have interests in common."
The U.S. and Cuba's tumultuous relationship began in the Cold War, continuing into the 1980s when Cuba was first added to the list for, “efforts to promote armed revolution by organizations that used terrorism” and for harboring fugitives. Cuba's admission to the list has been a dominant source of tension, with the nation being excluded from international financial markets.
The decision to take Cuba off the list has been met with mixed reviews from the Senate. Many Republicans have responded with criticism towards President Obama’s actions, including presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who stated, “They should have remained on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and I think it sends a chilling message to our enemies abroad that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”
There are also vocal supporters in the Senate who stand behind the President’s decision. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said, “While no fan of the Castro regime, I continue to believe that opening up the island to American ideas, vibrancy, and trade is the most effective way to see a more open and tolerant Cuba.”
The removal will officially come into effect after a 45-day review, during which the House and Senate have the power to jointly block the decision. Although there is opposition regarding the direction of Cuban foreign policy, a block is unlikely.
The Obama Administration clearly wishes to impress upon the public that they neither support nor condone the Cuban regime but merely acknowledge that Cuba is no longer engaged in terrorist activities. The White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated: “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 is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.”
Photo Credit: Pete Souza, Time.com