The April 14th decision to remove Cuba off the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list is the most important, concrete step towards normalization of diplomatic relations with Havana taken by the U.S. government since the Carter Administration. It has both tangible and intangible implications of historical importance to Cuba's relations with the U.S and its triangular relations with other major international actors.
First, if Cuba is not a terrorist threat, it is difficult to say that it is a threat to the U.S. at all given the asymmetry of power between the two states, and Cuba's renunciation of nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the Tlatelolco and nuclear non-proliferation treaties in the late 90s.
Second, it clarifies Cuba in America's official narrative not as a security threat but a country in transition, which is more in line both with Cuba's own self-image and how Latin American and European countries see it. Such a description undermines any rationality for the embargo and lends itself to a U.S. policy that emphasizes engagement and people to people contacts.
Third, it enables Obama to stop applying the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 to Cuba, the law on which much of the executive branch's sanctions regime, including limits on American citizens' right to travel, is based. If next September the president decides not to renew his authority to impose sanctions to Cuba under this law, citizens could challenge in court the prohibition to travel and succeed.
Fourth, it reduces Cuban state's liability for individual claims in U.S. courts for acts that occurred under Cuba's jurisdiction; cases that have already cost the island's frozen accounts in U.S. banks millions of dollars. Taking Cuba off the list of terrorist nations would help an eventual settlement of claims between Cuba and USA, as part of a normalization process.
Fifth, so long as Cuba was falsely designated on the terror list, it would not have agreed to opening embassies. Now the road to embassies in both capitals is open. Similarly, Cuba off the list lessens the regulatory risks and enforcement threats used by the U.S. government to pressure banks not to deal with Cuba, giving the nation greater latitude in gaining finance and benefitting from two-way trade.
Sixth, it encourages other countries to foster closer ties with Cuba, as it eliminates the drama involved in having commercial relations with a country designated a sponsor of terrorism by Washington. This will be especially meaningful for the European Union, which is also reviewing its policy towards Cuba, which has always resisted the extraterritoriality of U.S. sanctions on its companies.
Seven: taking Cuba off the list means countries can take the State Department list, a U.S. national security tool, more seriously. Cuba's inclusion on the list was seen on the island as an insulting lie. Removing this unnecessary barb, that has prevented bilateral relations, will build confidence for more flexible Cuban nationalist positions. The gratuitous inclusion on the list has harmed U.S. soft power, in many sectors of Cuban and Latin American civil society. In Cuba, ending such charade became a nationalist cause. One statement that most hurt Yoani Sánchez, opposition blogger, was her insistence on keeping Cuba on the list of terrorist countries because according to her: "The Castros have not put their guns away."
Another important element is the effect that taking Cuba off the list will have on American and Latin American perceptions of the power held by pro-embargo Cuban Americans. The legal procedure for removing Cuba from the list dubs them the losers from the start. The president simply gives Congress 45 days advance notice of his intention to remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Obama requires the advice of Congress, not its consent.
The president knows how to count and he realized the pro-embargo legislators don't have the votes to pass a bill or a joint resolution immune from a presidential veto. In conclusion, President Obama prevails. Legislators can comment, write letters to the president and reflect on Obama's decision. Thus, opponents such as Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Robert Menendez are stuck in the role of the chorus in Greek tragedies: shouting, screaming and crying but not playing a substantial role. Cuba will be off the State Department list of States Sponsors of terrorism. A major roadblock to the rapprochement track between Cuba and the United States has been removed.
Dawn Gable contributed to this piece.