Officials within the US Department of State have reportedly drafted a proposal to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a move widely seen as a last-minute bid by the Trump administration to block any intention by the incoming administration to ease relations.
Citing two officials familiar with the development, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that the potential designation would serve as a “thank-you” to Cuban Americans and other Trump supporters who live in Florida and strongly oppose the Cuban government.
Officials also noted the proposal was developed by the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, not the Counterterrorism Bureau which would typically play a key role in such a decision.
Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser who helped reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba under the Obama administration, told the outlet reports of the possible move are “complete nonsense.”
“Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism,” he said, noting the proposal being developed by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs was evidence the motion is politically motivated. “This is a sign that they know they can’t get Cuba on the list on the merits.”
In order to add a country to the list, the agency must prove that the nation has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Once added, the designation allows Washington to issue restrictions on US foreign assistance, ban defense exports and sales, exert control over exports on dual-use items, and implement other miscellaneous financial restrictions.
Cuba was first added to the terrorism list in 1982 under the Reagan administration for supporting leftist groups throughout Latin America; however, the island nation was later removed in 2015 as both nations began to normalize relations for the very first time since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration began to give hints of its intentions to relist Cuba as a terrorism sponsor when the State Department formally notified the US Congress in May that the country was failing to cooperate with the US’ counterterrorism measures. The agency specifically cited Cuba’s refusal to extradite 10 members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army residing in Havana who had claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a police academy in Bogotá.
More recently, a State Department-sponsored study prompted an even more heated standoff between the two countries after it claimed that directed radio frequency energy was the “most plausible mechanism” responsible for the mysterious symptoms that several diplomats at the US and Canadian Embassies in Havana reported experiencing in late 2016. Cuban officials rejected the early December report and stated that the conclusion was “certainly not a proven fact.”
Additionally, the US recently issued sanctions against three businesses it accused of being run by the Cuban military and sidestepping existing sanctions.
At present, the US only has North Korea, Iran and Syria on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Sudan was previously included but was removed after the North African country agreed to normalize relations with Israel.