Research: Commentary

The Bush Administration's Handling of Cuba and North Korea and Other Contradictions

July 7, 2008 | Article

By Wayne Smith

President Bush has lifted various sanctions against North Korea and removed it from the list of countries said to be state sponsors of terrorism. This, in response to its destruction of the cooling tower at Yongbyon, its main nuclear weapons plant, and its long-sought disclosure of its plutonium related activities there. That does not wipe the slate clean. North Korea still has at least six nuclear weapons in its arsenal and no commitment yet to give them up. Even so, most observers applauded the President's action as the best way to encourage engagement and positive new steps on North Korea's part.

Still, it leaves us with an ironic contrast. North Korea, nuclear weapons and all, has been removed from the list. Cuba, which has no nuclear program, remains on it. The State Department claims that Cuba endorses terrorism as a policy and thus must be on the list. In fact, however, Cuba has condemned terrorism in all its manifestations, signed all 12 UN anti-terrorist resolutions and offered to sign bilateral agreements with the U.S. to cooperate in efforts against terrorism - an offer the Bush administration ignored.

Further, we have Fidel Castro's own statement in September of 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, condemning all forms of terrorism as an "ethically indefensible phenomenon which must be eradicated." And he vowed that "the territory of Cuba will never be used for terrorist actions against the American people."

Nor can the State Department come up with any evidence of Cuban involvement in terrorist actions; rather, in its annual reports on "State Sponsors of Terrorism" it falls back on a series of non-sequiturs. Some of its recent reports, for example, complain that "Cuba did not attempt to track, block, or seize terrorist assets."

But the obvious response to that is "what assets?" There is no evidence at all that al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization has any assets in Cuba. And so, there is nothing to seize.

The reports go on to complain that: "To date, the Cuban government has taken no action against Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups."
But, again, neither Al-Qaeda nor any other terrorist group has a presence in Cuba and thus it is not at all clear what "action" Cuba could take against them. There are, to be sure, members of a number of Spanish and Colombian opposition groups present in Cuba, but the U.S.has acknowledged in various reports that it has "no information concerning terrorist activities of these or other organizations on Cuban territory."

In short, we have no credible evidence of Cuban support for or involvement in terrorist activities. We keep it on the terrorist list anyway. Not an idle gesture, for many of the sanctions the U.S. imposes against Cuba are based on its definition as a "terrorist state." Indeed, the law recently passed by the Florida legislature, SB1310, which was to have gone into effect on July 1, was intended to ban Florida travel agencies from dealing with any entities in countries on the terrorist list (Syria, Iran and Sudan - in addition to Cuba and North Korea). Clearly, however, the only real target was Cuba. The law is based on a false premise, i.e., that Cuba is a terrorist state, but it is also almost certainly unconstitutional and has been so challenged in court by a group of Miami-Dade travel agencies. On July 1, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction to consider the case. His decision is expected by July 11.

There is no evidence of Cuban support for terrorists or terrorist acts. Ironically, however, the U.S., is giving safe haven in Miami to arch-terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, one of the masterminds of the bombing of the Cubana flight back in 1976 with the loss of 73 innocent lives. It also shelters Orlando Bosch and various other known terrorists. As we've often noted, President Bush insists that anyone who shelters a terrorist, is a terrorist. Where, then, does that leave the U.S.?

Finally, we note that the Panamanian Supreme Court has just overturned the pardon granted to Posada in 2004 by outgoing President Mireya Moscoso - the pardon which enabled him to come to the U.S. It is unclear whether this will in any way change Posada's status in the U.S.

Wayne S. Smith is the former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82) and is now a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

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