HAVANA (AP) – Cuban officials and ordinary citizens have hailed the island’s removal from the US list of sponsor states for terrorism, saying President Barack Obama’s decision heals a decades-old insult to national pride and paves the way for a speedy restoration of diplomatic relations.
“The Cuban government recognizes the just decision of the President of the United States to remove Cuba from a list in which it should never have been included”, declared Tuesday evening Josefina Vidal, the highest diplomat in Cuban American affairs.
Cuban and American foreign policy experts said the two governments appeared to have taken a big step towards reopening embassies in Havana and Washington after four months of complex and at times frustrating negotiations.
“This is important because it shows Obama’s willingness to keep moving forward,” said Esteban Morales, professor of political science at the University of Havana. “Now there are no more political obstacles. What remains are organizational and technical issues, which can be resolved.
In a message to Congress, Obama said on Tuesday that the Cuban government “has not provided any support for international terrorism” for the past six months and has given “assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism. in the future”.
Cuba will be officially removed from the terrorist list 45 days after the president’s message is sent to Congress. Lawmakers could vote to block movement during this window, although Obama is almost certain to veto such a move.
What remains to be seen in the coming weeks is whether Cuba will allow U.S. diplomats to travel to Cuba and maintain contact with citizens, including dissidents, the second point of contention in negotiations over the restoration of Cuba. full diplomatic relations.
Cuba is very sensitive to any indication that the United States supports national dissent, and this issue could prove to be considerably more difficult than amending the terrorism list. The Obama administration has made little claim in recent years that it believes Cuba supports terrorism.
Cuba was put on the list in 1982 because of what the United States called its efforts “to promote armed revolution by organizations that used terrorism.”
This included support for left-wing guerrilla groups, notably the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Basque separatist movement ETA in Spain. Cuba has also housed black and Puerto Rican activists who carried out attacks in the United States. Among those was Joanne Chesimard, who was granted asylum from Fidel Castro after escaping from a US prison where she was serving time for killing a New Jersey state soldier in 1973.
Cuba gave up directly supporting militant groups years ago and is sponsoring peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. Spain no longer appears to be actively seeking the return of inactive ETA members who may be in Cuba.
For Cubans, the terrorism list was a particularly loaded issue because of America’s history of supporting exile groups responsible for attacks on the island, including the 1976 bombing of a flight of Cuban passengers from Barbados who killed 73 people on board. The attack was linked to Cuban exiles linked to anti-Castro groups supported by the United States, and the two men accused of organizing the crime took refuge in Florida, where one of them, Luis Posada Carriles, lives to this day.
“It’s really good that they finally took us off the list even though the reality is that we should never have been there,” said Rigoberto Morejon, a member of the Cuban national fencing team who lost. three training partners in the bombing. He added that he hoped that “we can continue to move forward in restoring relations.”
Beyond the emotional impact, the terrorism list has hampered Cuba’s ability to do business internationally.
A 1996 law that removes the sovereign immunity of nations from the list that engage in extrajudicial killings exposed Cuba to huge judgments in U.S. courts when mostly Cuban-American families accused the Cuban government of being responsible. of the deaths of loved ones, said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer specializing in US Cuba law.
The perceived and real risks of doing business with a listed country also made it very difficult for Cuba to do business with foreign banks. The Cuban Interest Section in Washington has been forced to deal in cash since losing its bank in the United States last year. The ability to reopen a US bank account is one of Cuba’s most urgent demands in negotiations to reopen embassies. While this decision rests with individual banks, delisting will make it easier.
The listing also prevented U.S. officials at the World Bank and other global financial bodies from approving credit for an increasingly cash-strapped Cuba.
Obama’s decision was hailed in the streets of Havana.
“Ultimately!” said Mercedes Delgado, a retired accountant. “The door opened a little more. It’s always good.