Obama to Remove Cuba From Terror List After Latin American Outcry; Will the Embargo Follow?

President Obama has told Congress he will remove Cuba from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing a major obstacle to restoring diplomatic relations with Havana for the first time in a half-century. Obama’s move comes just days after he and Cuban President Raúl Castro sat down at a summit in Panama for a historic meeting. Cuba was placed on the terrorism list in 1982 at a time when Havana was supporting liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America. While Cuba is being removed from the terrorism list, the trade embargo remains in effect. To discuss the thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations, we are joined from Havana by former Cuban diplomat, Carlos Alzugaray Treto.


AMY GOODMAN: President Obama told Congress Tuesday he intends to remove Cuba from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing a main obstacle to restoring diplomatic relations with Havana for the first time in half a century. Obama’s move came just days after he and Cuban President Raúl Castro sat down at a summit in Panama for the first meeting of its kind since Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met in 1958 before the Cuban Revolution.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region. The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion. It is the first time in more than half a century that all the nations of the Americas are meeting to address our future together.

AMY GOODMAN: At their meeting, Cuban President Raúl Castro urged Obama to remove Cuba from the terrorism list.

PRESIDENT RAÚL CASTRO: [translated] We have expressed, and I repeated it again here to President Obama, our willingness for respectful dialogue between both states within our profound differences. I see as a positive step his recent statements that he will quickly decide to remove the existence of Cuba from a list of countries that sponsor state terror, and on which we should never have been included.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuba was placed on the terrorism list in 1982 at a time when Havana was supporting liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America. In his letter to Congress, President Obama wrote the Cuban government, quote, “has not provided any support for international terrorism,” quote, in the past six months, and has, quote, “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future,” unquote. Once Cuba is officially removed from the list in 45 days, Iran, Sudan and Syria will become the only countries on the list.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat responsible for dealing with the U.S., said, quote, “The Cuban government recognized the fair decision made by the president of the United States to eliminate Cuba from a list that it never should have been included on, especially considering our country has been the victim of hundreds of acts of terrorism that have cost 3,478 lives and maimed 2,099 citizens,” she said.

For decades, the United States has supported anti-Castro militants who have carried out airline bombings, assassinations, attacks on hotels. In 1976, militants blew up a Cubana Airlines flight, killing all 73 people on board. The mastermind of the attack was a CIA operative named Luis Posada Carriles, who’s still living in Florida.

While Cuba is being removed from the terrorism list, the trade embargo remains in effect. Since 1962, companies have been banned from doing business with Cuba.

To talk more about the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations, we go directly to Havana, Cuba, where we’re joined by the former Cuban diplomat, Carlos Alzugaray Treto. He served as ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, and head of the Cuban Mission to the European Union. He’s also taught at the University of Havana and serves on the editorial board of Temas, a leading journal of social sciences and the humanities.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you start off by talking about the announcement that Cuba will be taken off the U.S. terrorism list? What is your response?

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO: Amy, thank you for having me. I think this is a major step by President Obama. I think it is probably the major step in concrete acts that he has taken since he announced his decision, together with President Raúl Castro, to normalize the relation. We can say that this is a first step to normal relations, taking Cuba out of a list where Cuba shouldn’t have been, never. I mean, in 1982, when Cuba was included in the list, it was a Reagan administration searching for some kind of excuse to attack Cuba. As a matter of fact, Secretary of State Alexander Haig said at the time that they wanted to go to the sources. Now we know he told President Reagan in private, “Give me the order, Mr. President, and I will turn Cuba into a parking lot.”

So, this is fair that this is being done, but it opens the way for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies. It’s not—there are still some small steps that have to be taken, like, for example, facilitating that the future Cuban Embassy in Washington and the mission at the United Nations can have a bank with which to deal, which has been something that over the last two years has been a problem, and also the question of what’s going to be the embassy in Havana going to do. An embassy in Cuba is a problem, because American embassies sometimes tend to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries to which they are accredited, something that they shouldn’t do. So, obviously, we have to still work on a lot of things, but I think this is a big step. We are moving forward. And hopefully we will have diplomatic relations and eventually walk the path, the long path, towards normalization.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the embargo? While Cuba is being taken off of the U.S. terrorism list, the embargo is not being lifted. Can you talk about the significance this has had on the people of Cuba?

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO: Oh, it’s a major problem for Cuba. President Raúl Castro mentioned it at the summit. And, in fact, President Obama recognized that the embargo had caused suffering. Remember, when the embargo was established in 1962, the logic behind it was really clear in a document from the State Department that basically said we have to bring—to put sanctions in place that will bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the Cuban government. So, the embargo has been there to cause us damage, and it has. It has been very difficult for Cuba, for example, to acquire medical equipments in different—even not only in the United States, but in different countries, because sometimes the companies that sell those equipments are subsidiaries of American companies. It is a long list. We suffer the embargo. And hopefully it will be totally lifted.

Right now, President Obama, he has been the first president who actually said the embargo has failed. I would have liked him to add, “And it is wrong that we had an embargo on a small neighbor.” But, well, OK, I’ll take it. And then, he obviously is interested in lifting it, which is only fair. I mean, there shouldn’t be, between two neighborly countries who have so much in common, this kind of relationship, which are basically dependent on unilateral actions by the United States. And this is one of the big problems that we face.

AMY GOODMAN: At a business forum alongside Summit of the Americas, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg mentioned plans to spread the social network into Cuba.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Now, there are some countries that don’t have open econmic policies today and where it’s not possible for us to operate. But, you know, one day, as Cuba starts opening up, it will be something that we might consider over time, and it definitely fits within our mission. But I just don’t have much more specifically to say about that today.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Can you talk about the significance of what he said, Carlos Alzugaray, as well as the other companies that are pushing for a lifting of the embargo—I mean, not to mention the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

CARLOS ALZUGARAY TRETO: Well, the embargo has been one of the most important obstacles in the way of connecting Cuba to the Internet. It’s not the only one, of course, but it is a very important one, because it makes it very expensive for the government to develop the necessary infrastructure to produce it. The government has said, and it’s the official policy of the Cuban government, to bring Internet to everyone at an affordable price. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be a tough way to do it. But, obviously, the political will of the Cuban government is there. Now, the problem is: Can we connect, for example, to the cables that pass close to Cuba which connect the rest of the Americas? We haven’t been able to do that, and then we are forbidden to have access to the technologies that exist in the United States.

So—but let me tell you, social networking is increasing in Cuba. I, myself, have a Facebook account, a Twitter account. I know a lot of my colleagues who have it. We need to have a better access, but there is no prohibition or censorship in what we do in the social networks. And that’s increasing at a very fast rate. It should increase at a faster rate. So, I like what Mr. Zuckerberg—his intention of facilitating the steps. Let’s work on it. But the embargo has to be lifted so that we can work on that as best we can.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, but when we come back, I want to ask you, Dr. Carlos Alzugaray, about why you think President Obama has made this decision, why U.S. policy is thawing towards Cuba for the first time in 50 years. We’ll be back with the former Cuban diplomat, as we speak to him in Havana, Cuba, in a moment.