President Obama on Tuesday said he is removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, paving the way for both countries to restore diplomatic relations.
Mr. Obama notified Congress Tuesday afternoon of his intent to rescind Cuba’s designation, saying Havana has not provided any support for international terrorism in the preceding six months, and has assured the U.S. it will not support terrorism in the future.
An opponent of the policy shift, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, said Mr. Obama “has demonstrated that his eagerness to capitulate to dictators has no bounds.”
Mr. Diaz-Balart said the Cuban regime’s ongoing terrorist activities include “extensive espionage activities, shoot-down of unarmed civilian aircraft in international waters, assistance to the Maduro regime in oppressing the opposition and subverting Venezuela’s democratic institutions, harboring members of terrorist organizations such as the FARC and ETA, harboring fugitives from U.S. justice including terrorists Joanne Chesimard and William Guillermo Morales, and weapons smuggling in violation of international sanctions.”
“This is just another shameful concession to the Castro regime,” he said. “Fortunately, most sanctions against the Castro regime are codified in U.S. law and can only be lifted by the U.S. Congress, when free, fair elections are scheduled, independent labor unions, political parties, and the press are legalized, and all political prisoners are freed.”
Cuban President Raul Castro has insisted on the move as a step toward both countries opening embassies in Washington and Havana.
“As the president has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” the White House said. “That determination is based on the statutory standard — and the facts — and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation. More broadly, the United States will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”
Mr. Obama met Mr. Castro face-to-face in Panama last week at the Summit of the Americas, where the two discussed restoring ties.
Cuba was first designated as a sponsor of terrorism in 1982.
It barred the country from access to banks in the U.S., and discouraged banks in other countries from doing business with the Cubans.
Mr. Obama’s action, which was expected, gives Congress 45 days to respond.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican who declared his candidacy for president this week, called Mr. Obama’s decision “terrible.”
“Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism,” Mr. Rubio said. “They harbor fugitives of American justice, including someone who killed a police officer in New Jersey over 30 years ago. It’s also the country that’s helping North Korea evade weapons sanctions by the United Nations. They should have remained on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and I think sends a chilling message to our enemies aboard that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”
His comments prompted a spokesman from the Democratic National Committee to criticize Mr. Rubio for “clinging to an outdated foreign policy relic from the Cold War.”