Trump returns Cuba to US list of state sponsors of terrorism

Act continues freezing of US-Cuba ties that warmed under Obama administration

epa08932091 (FILE) - A general view of the Capitol among different buildings in the historic center of Havana, Cuba, 16 December 2020 (reissued 11 January 2021). The US has reinstated Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, US State Secretary Pompeo announced on 11 January 2021 only days before the end of the incumbent US administration.  EPA/Ernesto Mastrascusa *** Local Caption *** 56568452

The Trump administration on Monday said it was returning Cuba to the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, complicating any efforts by the Biden administration to revive the Obama-era detente with Havana.

Nine days before President Donald Trump leaves office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Cuba was being blacklisted for "repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism", by harbouring US fugitives and Colombian rebel leaders.

Mr Pompeo said communist-ruled Cuba's security support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was another reason for the listing.

He said Cuba allowed the socialist leader to maintain his grip on power and create "a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela".

"With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of US justice," Mr Pompeo said.

Returning Cuba to the list is a further weakening of the detente that Democratic former president Barack Obama orchestrated between the old Cold War foes.

Mr Obama's decision to formally remove Cuba from the terrorism list in 2015 was an important step toward restoring diplomatic ties that year.

The terrorism list decision followed months of legal review, with some administration experts questioning whether it was justified, a source said.

It would require more long legal deliberations for president-elect Joe Biden to reverse the designation.

Mr Trump has clamped down on Cuba since coming to power in 2017, tightening restrictions on US travel and remittances, and imposing sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island.

His hard-line Cuba policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in South Florida, helping him win the state in November although he lost the election to Mr Biden, who was Mr Obama's vice president.

Mr Biden said during the election campaign that he would promptly reverse Mr Trump's policies on Cuba, which “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights".

But Mr Trump's move could make it more difficult for Mr Biden to resume rapprochement when he takes office. Syria, Iran and North Korea are other countries on the list.

"I denounce Secretary of State Pompeo's manoeuvres to include Cuba in the list of states sponsoring terrorism to please the anti-Cuban minority in Florida," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted on December 30.

Mr Trump has kept up a steady stream of 11th-hour sanctions, announcements and other action against targets including Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.

Mr Biden's aides have said some appear designed to tie the president-elect's hands when he is sworn in on January 20.

"We’ve taken note of these last-minute manoeuvres," one official said. "The transition team is reviewing each one."

Patrick Leahy, a Democratic senator and a staunch supporter of Mr Obama's rapprochement with Cuba, condemned Mr Pompeo for a "blatantly politicised designation".

"Domestic terrorism in the United States poses a far greater threat to Americans."

The relisting of Cuba has heavy symbolic meaning for Havana, which was under the US designation for decades, although it is unclear how much practical impact there will be.

It carries a ban on US economic aid and arms exports, controls on "dual-use" items with military and civilian applications, and a requirement that the US oppose loans to Cuba by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

But many of those restrictions are already in place or have been tightened by Mr Trump, and the decades-old US economic embargo can only be lifted by Congress.

In Monday's announcement, Mr Pompeo singled out, among others, the case of Joanne Chesimard, the most prominent US fugitive in Cuba.

Chesimard fled there after escaping a New Jersey prison following her conviction for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. She changed her name to Assata Shakur.

Mr Pompeo also condemned Cuba's refusal of Colombia's request to extradite leaders of the National Liberation Army rebel group after it claimed responsibility for an attack at a Bogota police academy in January 2019, which killed 22 people.

The leaders of the largest active guerrilla group in Colombia travelled to Havana as part of peace talks that collapsed after the attack.

Cuba has received broad praise in the past for hosting the successful peace talks between the Colombian government and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebels.