(Update, 21 Feb): After I posted this item yesterday morning, later in the day a colleague in town advised me that the Obama Administration named Bernie Aronson — a former government official who currently heads a private equity investment firm — as U.S. envoy to the Colombia-FARC “peace talks.” Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about this appointment or the timing. Just one of those things that … happens. Everything I wrote earlier stands. Even more so now.
Certain pockets within the Obama Administration are hell-bent on whitewashing Cuban misdeeds as well as engage in policy laundering for the sole purpose of notching a political historical footnote. As for Aronson, we’ll have more to say about that appointment in the near future.
For now, note that in 2010 a Council on Foreign Relations task force led by Aronson concluded, among other things, that more travel by Americans to Cuba was needed, as well as limited investment in Cuba’s private sector (sound familiar), oh, and one more thing, the CFR report also called for Cuba’s involvement in the Colombia-FARC peace talks …. more to come …
Terrorism experts and other federal officials at the State Department and other agencies, as they do every year, are preparing a terrorism report for the Congress. Due in the spring by April 30, U.S.-Cuba policy watchers are paying closer attention to this Country Report on Terrorism because on December 17, 2014 President Barack Obama decreed (emphases my own):
… I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law. Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction …
Remember amigos and amigas, the state sponsors report is an annual exercise so the President’s gratuitous commentary was political kabuki. The President is telegraphing to Foggy Bottom: no matter what the facts and the law require, ‘I want Cuba off that list.’ He is trying to do with U.S.-Cuba policy what he is doing with immigration, ignore the law and govern by decree.
There is no doubt that Cuba, even if we focus solely on publicly available information, should remain on the state sponsors of terror list. It meets several of the key statutory requirements for a state sponsor pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 2656f as well as the policy, and other legal requirements of 22 U.S.C. §§ 6021–6091, otherwise known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton).
Yleem and I co-authored a piece on this subject a few weeks ago for the National Review Online: “Yes, Cuba is a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” In it we outlined some of the reasons why Cuba should remain on the list, as well as hinting to a potential whitewashing that started last year of the designation:
The “April 2014 State Department Country Reports on Terrorism,” however, implied that the only role the Castro regime had with FARC was facilitating travel for the “peace talks” between these terrorists and the Colombian government. It further stated that the ETA presence in Cuba is diminished. It would appear that a kinder-and-gentler Cuba narrative is being written to accommodate a preconceived policy outcome.
I strongly doubt that everyone at the State Department, indeed even other federal agencies that contributed to the 2014 report, are in complete agreement with how the Cuba case was contextualized in 2014. It is policy laundering by certain officials at the National Security Council who, in their own minds, have found a way to intellectually separate a good terrorist from a bad terrorist. A terrorist is a terrorist. Cuba is full of them. Cuba also engages in terror-related activities, including providing “significant financial support” to terrorist and others who support terror in the Americas, the Middle East, and elsewhere. See 22 U.S.C. §2656f (b)(3), et. seq.
One very clear example of policy laundering are the Colombia-FARC “peace talks”.
For at least two years, Cuba has hosted “peace talks” in Havana that include the leftist terrorist group FARC and the government of Colombia. It is a farcical process and a not too clever attempt to create what amounts to a terrorist sanctuary within Colombia. FARC terrorists have not laid down arms or renounced violence, nor have the Cubans for that matter. Indeed, freedom-loving Colombians know full well that the FARC wants a free pass for decades of terror, mayhem, and death. Opposition to these talks in Colombia have been growing, but no one in these parts is paying too much attention.
The special relationship between the United States and Colombia irritates the Cuban regime, as well as other countries in the region including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and many others. It has done so for decades. Why? Because the partnership remains, at least for now, a healthy checkmate on Cuban/Leftist adventurism in the Andean region. It has been a foreign policy thorn for Cuba’s foreign ministry. With these talks, the Cubans and Latin America’s Left seeks to change that forever.
But as former Colombian President Alavaro Uribe told Members of the U.S. Congress last week, they are “negotiating impunity” and weakening Colombian security. This is not in the U.S. national interest and we should not be facilitating this process. If you want to learn more about the “peace process,” read a few of Mary O’Grady’s Wall Street Journal op-eds. They are very good.
Since September 2012, possibly earlier, some of us who follow Cuba’s antics in the region have argued that Cuba’s primary reason for hosting the FARC talks is linked to the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism designation. The talks are a sideshow designed to not only help Cuba empower an ideological soul mate within Colombia, but also distract U.S. policymakers to Cuba’s ongoing support for international terrorism. The talks offer Cuba the patina of a kindler and gentler Cuba. But rub enough and you’ll see the regime, and those who support them, remain rotten to the core.
Cuba wants off the state sponsors list for one reason and one reason only, it puts them one step closer to securing a Congressional vote to ease all sanctions on the regime. If removed from the list, it will empower not just Cuba, but Venezuela, the FARC, and other anti-American governments throughout the region. It will set back long-term interests such as advancing liberty, rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, as well as other important American interests.
During the next round of talks with the Cubans scheduled for next week right here in the DC area, regime officials need to be told, yes told, that the shenanigans are over. They may want to cling to failed Communist ideologies and economic systems, but the fringe experimentation in the Americas is over. They lost, freedom won. It’s time for them to pick up the pieces and act like grown ups, not hooligans. If they want to come off the terror list, they know what they need to do (and they’ve already said they’re not interested). We set the terms for re-engagement, as set forth in U.S. law, not them.