Cuban and American officials as well as progressives in various parts of the world on Monday blasted the soon-to-be-departed Trump administration’s decision to put Cuba back on the U.S. State Department’s list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” a move that critics say reveals the U.S. government’s hypocritical approach to the topic of “terrorism.”
“As the case of Cuba reveals, ‘terrorism’ means resistance to massive U.S. terrorism and refusal to bow down to the master.”
—Noam Chomsky, linguist and activist
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last-minute announcement, which reverses an Obama-era effort to improve diplomatic relations with the neighboring island nation, comes just before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.
On its way out the door, the Trump administration is “laying political land mines” for Biden—not only in Cuba but also in Yemen and Taiwan—wrote Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch in Foreign Policy on Monday.
“The decision is a part of a blitz of 11th-hour moves by the Trump administration to push through hard-line policies championed by influential domestic political constituencies despite the complications they create for State Department lawyers, humanitarian interests abroad, and the incoming Biden administration,” The Washington Post reported Monday.
Gramer and Detsch, however, suggested that the Trump administration is carrying out these actions not despite the harm they will cause the Biden administration but rather because the changes will constrain the incoming White House.
Cuba joins Iran, North Korea, and Syria on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a list that critics say conspicuously leaves out “U.S. allies that actually do sponsor terrorist groups: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”
The U.S. first added Cuba to its list of terrorism-sponsoring states in 1982 even as the Reagan administration provided financial support and arms to Nicaragua’s right-wing counterrevolutionary forces accused of widespread human rights violations.
In his statement attempting to justify the State Department’s re-designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, Pompeo accused Cuba of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”
As The Guardian reported, “That is partly a reference to the former Black Panther Assata Shakur who was jailed in the U.S. for the 1973 killing of a police officer and later escaped to Cuba where she was granted asylum by its then-leader Fidel Castro. It is also based on Cuba’s refusal to extradite a group of guerrillas from Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) for alleged involvement in a 2019 bomb attack in Bogotá,” as well as the nation’s ongoing support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who survived a failed U.S.-backed coup attempt in 2019.
Last week’s attempted coup on U.S. soil, wherein an insurrectionary pro-Trump mob killed a police officer during a violent attack on the Capitol following weeks of lies from the president and Republican lawmakers about the legitimacy of the presidential election outcome, was also at the forefront of critics’ minds on Monday.
“This designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism with less than a week to go in his presidency and after he incited a domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capitol… that’s hypocrisy,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told The Associated Press in an interview.
As journalist Reese Erlich explained in a column late last week:
In reality, Cuba has never been a state sponsor of terrorism. It supported armed insurgents in Latin America and sent troops to Angola to beat back a South African invasion of that country. But it never supported intentional attacks on civilians practiced by such groups as Al Qaeda.
Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez denounced Pompeo’s announcement, calling it “hypocritical” and “cynical” for the U.S. to put Cuba on its list of terrorist-sponsoring states. “U.S. political opportunism,” Rodríguez added, “is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims.”
According to journalist Dan Cohen, “the U.S. sponsored and protected right-wing fanatics who used actual terrorism to destroy the Cuban economy while Cuba has aided liberation movements around the world and sought peace.”
Trump administration will name Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism”.
The US sponsored and protected right-wing fanatics who used actual terrorism to destroy the Cuban economy while Cuba has aided liberation movements around the world and sought peace.https://t.co/cgao2eJMQJ
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) January 11, 2021
Erlich provided a brief snapshot of how the U.S. has weaponized the concept of “terrorism”:
According to the State Department, “Terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”
By that definition, the people who blew up the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 were terrorists. Although the group attacked soldiers in a conflict zone, the marines were “noncombatant targets,” not soldiers fighting in the field.
By contrast, the 2019 U.S. military drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iraq militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was not terrorism because it was carried out openly, not by “clandestine agents.”
How convenient! Insurgent groups can only kill soldiers in the battlefield, whereas the Pentagon can create battlefields anywhere in the world so long as it assassinates people openly.
The State Department uses gobbledygook to lump together Al Qaeda, ISIS, Marxist guerrillas, and Palestinians who are engaged in armed struggle. Its “terror list” has always reflected Washington’s drive for hegemony rather than a fight against terrorism.
In recent months, Cuba has been sending doctors around the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Despite being burdened for decades by harmful economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., the biggest export of the small island nation, which has a lower child mortality rate than its more powerful and hostile neighbor to the north, is medical care.
In addition to drawing attention to the fact that the U.S. has run a “gulag” in Guantánamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba for nearly two decades, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin juxtaposed Cuba’s international medical brigades with U.S. support for the Saudi regime’s starvation-inducing blockades and deadly airstrikes on Yemen and asked, “Who is the state sponsor of terrorism?”
Disgusting hypocrits. Cuba is saving lives around the world with its medical missions. The US is killing and starving people with bombs, like in Yemen. Who is the state sponsor of terrorism? https://t.co/rTclawsN6w
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) January 11, 2021
Paul Pillar, a retired 28-year veteran of the CIA and former deputy chief of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, told Erlich that the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism has been highly politicized since Congress created it in 1979 and included only countries aligned with the Soviet Union.
“The U.S. won’t put allies on the list even though they engage in terrorist behavior,” Pillar said, citing the example of Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Instead, experts say, the U.S. uses the blacklist as a coercive tool to reward compliant countries and punish noncompliant ones or entice them to bend to the will of Washington.
Decrying the hypocrisy of the list, renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky told Erlich by email that the U.S. should “either eliminate it, or make it honest.”
“As the case of Cuba reveals, ‘terrorism’ means resistance to massive U.S. terrorism and refusal to bow down to the master,” Chomsky said.