Trump puts Cuba back on list of state sponsors of terrorism

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration has announced that it was returning Cuba to the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that could complicate any efforts by the incoming Biden administration to revive the Obama-era detente with Havana.

Just nine days before Republican President Donald Trump leaves office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that Cuba was being listed for "repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism" by harbouring US fugitives and Colombian rebel leaders.

Mr Pompeo also cited communist-ruled Cuba's security support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which he said had 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 in a statement.

Returning Cuba to the list is a further rollback of the detente that Democratic former president Barack Obama orchestrated between the old Cold War foes. His decision to formally remove Cuba from the terrorism list in 2015 was an important step towards 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 told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It would require further lengthy legal deliberations for Democratic 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 to Cuba, and imposing sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island.

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

Mr Biden said during the election campaign he would promptly reverse Mr Trump's policies on Cuba that "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.

"We condemn the US announced hypocritical and cynical designation of #Cuba as a State sponsoring terrorism," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter.

"The US political opportunism is recognised by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims."

Mr Trump has kept up a steady stream of 11th-hour sanctions announcements and other actions against targets, including Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, and Biden aides have said some appear designed to tie his hands when he is sworn in next Wednesday.

"We've taken note of these last-minute manoeuvres," a Biden official said.

"The transition team is reviewing each one."

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a staunch supporter of Mr Obama's rapprochement, condemned Mr Pompeo for a "blatantly politicised designation", saying "domestic terrorism in the United States poses a far greater threat to Americans".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2021, with the headline 'Trump puts Cuba back on list of state sponsors of terrorism'. Print Edition | Subscribe