THE BLOG
10/30/2014 01:42 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

Cuba, Praised for Increased Vigilance against Terrorist Finance, Remains on US Terror List

Last Friday, The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) congratulated Cuba - along with Argentina, Ethiopia, Tajikistan and Turkey - for taking such strong actions to police its financial system that it will no longer be subject to the monitoring of its efforts against money-laundering and terrorist finance.

Because of "Cuba's significant progress in improving its (anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorist-financing) regime...Cuba is therefore no longer subject to the FATF's monitoring process,' FATF said here and here.

The FATF was established in 1989 by the Group of Seven, as noted by the International Anti-Money Laundering Forum, to address the threat posed by money laundering to the international banking system and to promote policies to eliminate the threat. After 9/11, "the FATF took over responsibility for the development of standards in the fight against terrorist financing," to encourage nations to rectify what the FATF calls "strategic deficiencies" that pose risks to the global financial system.

As then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said at the time, "FATF is uniquely positioned to take up the challenges of terrorist financing. Our goal must be nothing less than the disruption and elimination of the financial frameworks that support terrorism and its abhorrent acts".

Countries that don't meet FATF standards subject their economies to rough-going. As the Wall Street Journal reports, countries find it "more costly and difficult for those nations to transact with the banking systems" of countries throughout the world. If countries out of step with FATC are also subject to U.S. sanctions, their problems multiply; as a practical matter, they are locked out of the global financing sector, which potentially denies them "billions of dollars in potential investment," according to one analysis.

Cuba knows this well.

As recently as 2011, the U.S. State Department used Cuba's failure to meet FATF standards to justify its listing as a state sponsor of terrorism. State said, "Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF. It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body."

But one year later, State reported that "Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations." This, we might add, as State explained why it was keeping Cuba on the terror list.

By the time the Department issued its 2013 report, the section on Cuba's compliance with money laundering and anti-terrorist financing rules had been dropped completely.

So, remind me again, why is Cuba still on the terror list?

Surely, it can't be that "Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)," as the Department reported this year.

It cannot be, because State's very next sentence in the very same report said, "Reports continued to indicate that Cuba's ties to ETA have become more distant, and that about eight of the two dozen ETA members in Cuba were relocated with the cooperation of the Spanish government."

That leaves the United States with only one justification for keeping Cuba on the list. In the 2013 reporting period, "The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States. The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals."

This refers to Joanne Chesimard, implicated in the brutal murder of a State Policeman in New Jersey, and to other so-called "militant groups" that were active in the U.S. decades ago.

Now, terrorism is a terrible thing. In 2013, we know there were over 9,700 terror attacks. These reportedly resulted in more than 17,800 deaths and 32,500 injuries, with more than 2,900 people kidnapped or taken hostage.

None of this - not one casualty, not one act of violence - was connected by the State Department to Cuba, which reports instead "There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups."

Small wonder then, when the State Department briefed reporters this year on the 2013 terror list report, that a journalist asked: "How much longer are you going to keep Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?"

According to the transcript, Spokesperson Marie Harf responded, "Well, it's a good question that I know comes up a lot. The State Department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list."

Of course, she could have offered a more direct answer. There's just one thing holding up Cuba's removal from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list, and it isn't radical fugitives from the 1970s or 80s who found safe haven in Cuba.

It's politics.