President Obama may be determined to repeal George W. Bush's global war on terrorism. But that didn't stop the State Department from declaring last week, on the flimsiest of evidence, that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism for the 30th straight year.
This, despite the department's admission that there's "no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or training to terrorist groups." The department also points out that Cuba has now joined an international compact against terrorist-financing, and is trying to broker an end to the 49-year-old civil war between Colombia's FARC guerrillas, whom Cuba once supported, and their government, a U.S. ally.
The hardest evidence State could offer to back up its listing was that Cuba has continued to provide safe haven to two dozen Spanish Basque separatists and some fugitives wanted in the United States. By contrast, the U.S. accused Iran, another on its terrorism sponsor list, of such misconduct as bombings carried out in two countries and and attempted in a third, training and equipping Afghan Taliban and Iraqi militants, and masterminding a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
"Regardless of what got Cuba on the list in the the 1980s, there's no recent evidence of Cuba's being involved in any international terrorist activities," Philip Peters told me. Peters is a long-time expert on Cuban affairs who heads the new Cuba Research Center.
The U.S. government tried to strengthen its case against Cuba a month ago, when the FBI announced that a sixty-five-year-old grandmother who calls herself Assata Shakur and was once named Joanne Chesimard became the first woman ever put on its ten most wanted terrorists list. Shakur/Chesimard was arrested in May 1973, after a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, with two other members of the Black Liberation Army, a group responsible for murders and robberies.
One policeman was killed, as was a male BLA member. Shakur/Chesimard, who was wounded, and the other man, were arrested. He was convicted as the killer and is serving life. A second policeman, who was wounded, accused her of shooting him but later admitted he'd lied and had never even seen her with a gun. FBI crime lab tests revealed no gunpowder residue on her fingers, and none of her fingerprints on any weapon. Nevertheless, she was convicted of first degree murder and seven other felonies under a New Jersey law that makes someone found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes guilty of the crimes themselves.
Black radicals broke Shakur/Chesimard out of prison in 1979 and she's been living in Cuba since 1984. In announcing her placement on the terrorist list last month, 40 years after her conviction, an FBI spokesman called her "a domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style" and "a danger to the American government" because of speeches he said she still makes urging revolution and anti-U.S. terrorism.
Her lawyers dispute not only her guilt but her being called a terrorist. One, Evelyn Williams, charges she's "the only person convicted of a single domestic crime" labelled a terrorist and put on the list, "thereby nullifying the very definition of 'terrorism'." Shakur/Chesimard shares the list with eight men accused of bombings, murders, airline hijacking and hostage-taking, all committed overseas, and one animal rights extremist charged with bombing two California companies.
In contrast, her entry lists her crime as being "wanted for escaping from prison in Clinton, N.J. while serving a life sentence for murder." Cuba expert Philip Peters speculates that putting her on the FBI list may be "a reason to keep Cuba on as a state sponsor of terrorism."
Actually, the U.S. is hardly in a position to complain about Cuban terrorism because our government has gone out of its way to protect murderous anti-Castro terrorists. Among many examples, the worst are Luis Posada and the late Orlando Bosch, two ex-CIA men given safe haven in this country, despite their involvement in large-scale murders and many other terrorist crimes.
Both spent years in Venezuelan jails for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Both had long terrorist histories. Bosch, who died two years ago, headed an exile group that claimed responsibility for 11 bombing attacks against Cuban properties. The Justice Department accused him of more than 30 acts of sabotage and he was jailed for four years in this country.
Attorney General Richard Thornburgh described Bosch as "an unrepentant terrorist." He was ordered deported in 1988. But at the urging of Jeb Bush, then a Florida businessman and later the state's governor, his father, President George H.W. Bush, overruled the deportation order, allowing Bosch to spend his last 21 years as a free man in Miami. He died at 84.
Posada, 85, remains alive and free in Miami. Two employees of his private detective agency confessed to the airline bombing and said he put them up to it. He denied it. He escaped jail in 1985 and, despite his record, was rehired by the CIA to help supply the Nicaraguan Contras.
Authorities say Posada was responsible for dozens of terrorist bombings. He boasted to the New York Times that he planned the 1997 bombings of seven Havana hotels and restaurants that killed an Italian tourist and injured 11 other people, but later denied it. He was jailed in Panama for four years after a failed plot to assassinate the visiting Fidel Castro.
Posada has been in the U.S. since his illegal entry in 2005. A judge wanted to deport him but refused to send him to Venezuela or Cuba, the only countries willing to accept him (so they could try him). The judge said he'd be tortured if sent to either. Today, cleared of all charges, he's a hero to many Cuban-Americans.
There are much worse defects in U.S.-Cuba policy than the fact that the island is on our terrorist lists. Our 53-year-old trade embargo is a miserable failure. Travel restrictions make Cuba the only country our government won't allow most Americans to visit. Our far-too-lax immigration rules uniquely for Cubans are ridiculously outdated. But nothing is as hypocritical and morally reprehensible as our terrorism policy. We claim to be fighting a global war on terrorism. But our government has given aid, comfort and safe haven from justice to some of the world's worst terrorists.