Point of View

Cuba and the United States: Time to lean forward

April 2, 2013 

New Secretary of State John Kerry must decide within a few weeks whether to recommend to President Obama that Cuba be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Such a collection currently includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Cuba has been on this list since 1982 and has been under the weight of a 51-year U.S. economic embargo. Removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism would not impact the status of the embargo and the current trade and travel restrictions it imposes.

It is my strong conviction that the time is right for Secretary Kerry to advocate for the removal of Cuba from this list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Inclusion on this list has little to do with any realistic threat by Cuba to the United States or any other country. In addition, the list has become so politicized as to be useless. With North Korea having been removed from this list in 2008 and Pakistan, the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, never being put on the list due to its strategic importance to the United States, the argument for removing Cuba seems stronger than ever.

Cuba is changing. Cuban citizens can own their own property and houses, purchase automobiles, and own their own businesses. And in recent weeks, Cubans are being allowed to apply for a passport and freely travel abroad.

We are all aware that there remains much more change that needs to come to Cuba regarding freedoms we here in the U.S. too often fail to appreciate.

However, the current U.S. policy of isolation and confrontation has done nothing to bring change to Cuba. Instead, we find that in the family of nations, when it comes to Cuba, we are the ones who are isolated. It is past time for a policy of constructive engagement.

The Latin American Working Group in Washington lists the following reasons that Cuba should be removed from the U.S. list of terrorist nations:

•  Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism. State sponsors of terrorism are governments that provide logistical, financial or political support to groups that carry out terrorist attacks on civilians. Cuba does not!

• Cuba has made international commitments to combat terrorism. Cuba has ratified all 12 international conventions, and Cuba has offered to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States on counterterrorism.

• Cuba is a sponsor of the Colombian peace talks. Cuba is playing a constructive, mediating role in peace talks between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government.

• Cuba collaborates with the United States in counter-drug efforts. Together, we interdict narco shipments in the Caribbean, and the U.S. government acknowledges, even lauds, this cooperation.

• Keeping Cuba on the list weakens the credibility of the entire list while removing Cuba from the terrorist list would send a positive signal to all Latin American governments…and could well improve the image of the United States in the Western Hemisphere.

Today’s Cuba is faltering, and it struggles to feed its own population. Now is the time for the United States to take the high road. Now is the time to take one small step toward healing an old wound that some in Washington prefer to keep festering for their own political and financial greed.

When it comes to the U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, let’s lean forward. Remove Cuba from the terrorist nations list.

Edward T. Walsh, a former executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Johnston County, has been traveling to Cuba for 20 years and works with three colleges on study abroad programs in Cuba.

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