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Action by Cuba Against Terror Financing Compels a U.S. Response

Cuba's government has unilaterally taken action against global terrorism, and this step deserves a positive response by the United States.
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Cuba's government has unilaterally taken action against global terrorism, and this step deserves a positive response by the United States.

According to press reports, President Raúl Castro signed a decree "to immediately freeze funds from foreign banks linked to terror groups, including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban."

AFP, the French news agency, noted that Cuba more tightly regulates the eleven foreign financial institutions that operate on the island than its Caribbean neighbors who function as off-shore tax havens.

The great irony here - more than an irony, an injustice - is that Cuba's action comes at a time when Cuban diplomats operating in Washington and New York are struggling to find banks willing to process financial transactions for their consular services because Cuba is (falsely) listed as a state sponsor of terror by the United States government.

Designation as a state sponsor hurts them economically; it raises their costs and complicates their ability to do financial transactions in the global economy; and it limits their access to imports, technology, and services that are central to the livelihoods and wellbeing of the Cuban people. Cuba pays a big price for something that isn't true.

When the State Department published its overview on the State Sponsors of Terrorism last year, the 206 words it devoted to Cuba (Iran's scolding ran to over 900 words by comparison) contained no compelling evidence for keeping it on the list. Instead, State called attention to Cuba's sponsorship of peace talks to settle Colombia's civil war, and said it found "no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups."

Cuba - which poses no threat military threat to the U.S., which stopped supporting foreign insurgencies (after its troops helped end apartheid in South Africa) - remains on this list for wholly political reasons.

It is unfortunate that the U.S.-Cuba relationship is frozen by our reliance on "tit-for-tat" diplomacy; meaning, the U.S. refuses to act unless Cuba goes first and does something we want it to do. The hardliners who favor this approach have never understood how much power that vests in Havana's hands over Washington's ability to pursue the U.S. national interest. It's even worse, however, when Cuba, in pursuit of its own interests, satisfies a condition of U.S. policy, but gets no acknowledge from the U.S. government in response.

President Obama has executive authority to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror and he should use it. Instead of stigmatizing Cuba, the U.S. should be collaborating with Cuba -as a group of U.S.-Cuban citizen diplomats proposed last year - to cooperate on anti-terror efforts, to negotiate a protocol on handling security crises, and to review the sentencing of individuals held for violating their respective laws as a consequence of actions they took on behalf of both governments.

Just last year, the President told a Miami audience, when it comes to Cuba, we have to be "creative" and "thoughtful" and "we have to continue to update our policies." Here is a chance for him to keep his word.