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Legitimate Designation Or Departing Thank You? Trump Puts Cuba Back On Terrorism List

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
President Trump in Miami in 2017 surrounded by Cuban-American and other Florida political leaders as he signed new U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Six years after President Obama removed Cuba from the U.S.'s list of state sponsors of terrorism, the Trump Administration has reversed him. Is it policy or politics?

For weeks there have been rumors that the outgoing Trump Administration would put Cuba back on the U.S.'s list of state sponsors of terrorism. On Monday those rumors became reality — but may not mean that much in the end with a new, different-minded president taking office soon.

The U.S. first designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. Six years ago, President Obama removed Cuba from that list when he normalized relations with the communist island. President Trump has now put Cuba back on that roster.

The U.S. ranks four other countries as state sponsors of terrorism: North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Cuba is back on the list because it has helped Venezuela’s regime oppress its people and because it’s given “safe harbor to terrorists” like Colombian guerrillas.

Cuba denies the charges. Either way, Trump has talked often about branding Cuba a terrorism sponsor again in large part to win over Florida’s Cuban voters. They came out in force for him in the November election — and his follow-through on the terrorism designation is widely seen as a departing "thank you" to them.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to renew Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba — and that may mean reversing this latest Cuba action by Trump. Until then, it could hurt Cuba by causing countries and companies to avoid business with the island.

While some Cuba experts say Trump's move is a political abuse of the terrorism designation, some suggest it might also be diplomatically useful to Biden. Removing Cuba from the terrorism list could serve as leverage to get the regime to cooperate on issues like human rights.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.