Cuba Is Not a Terrorist State

Do I look like a terrorist to you?

Photographer: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama's announcement of his intention to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism comes both far too late and at just the right time.

For well over a decade, Cuba has been an odd bedfellow among other terrorism sponsors such as Iran, Sudan and Syria (not to mention North Korea, which President George W. Bush delisted in 2008). By taking Cuba off the list now, Obama will facilitate the resumption of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.

QuickTake Cuba-U.S. Reboot

The thawing of U.S. relations with Cuba does not mean that it has become a tropical democracy. The Castro regime's repressive apparatus is intact and well-oiled. Its control over the economy remains firm. And it continues to act in ways that are inimical to U.S. interests.

But that description could apply to many countries that are not on the list -- beginning with Russia, Syria's patron. And as the State Department's terrorism reports have acknowledged for several years, there is no indication that Cuba's government has provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups. Its ties with Basque liberation groups have become distant, and it has been a sponsor and host for peace talks between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

In many respects, the Cuban government has been an able silent partner for the U.S., cooperating on anti-narcotics missions, aviation security, migration and anti-money-laundering efforts. Both Cuba and the U.S. were leaders in the effort to curb Ebola in Africa. And what other state sponsor of terror has maintained smooth military-to-military relations with a hostile nation that maintains a base on its shores?

In the short run, Obama's decision -- which came less than a week after his meeting with President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas -- will enable Cuba's Interests Section in the U.S. to establish accounts with U.S. banks. That will in turn make it easier to process visas for U.S. travelers to Cuba. Longer term, taking Cuba off the list helps to open the door for trade, as well as for support from international financial institutions, among other potential benefits. It removes a major sticking point in the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba for a resumption of full diplomatic ties.

Cuba's critics in Congress, which could block some aspects of Obama's decision by passing a joint resolution, are right that the Castro regime is repressive, especially to its political opponents. But Cuba is no longer a sponsor of terrorism -- and it's counterproductive to say it is. 

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.