President Barack Obama’s historic announcement Tuesday to remove Cuba from the terrorists list has sparked a war of words. Not surprisingly, opinions are being expressed along party lines.
“Opening Cuba to travel and investment should have happened a long time ago,” said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She added, “I don’t know if Cuba should have ever been on the list, to tell you the truth.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, called the move a “mistake” and said the U.S. should support those who want a democracy.
Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982, after showing support for leftist guerrilla groups in Central and South America that carried out attacks on civilians in their efforts to overthrow U.S.-backed governments.
In 1959, Fidel Castro led a revolt to overthrow dictator Fulgencia Batista. Once in power, he struck a deal to purchase oil from Russia. When U.S. refineries in Cuba refused to process that oil, he confiscated their facilities. This led the US to break off diplomatic relations. Soon President Dwight Eisenhower and other U.S. leaders were contemplating the overthrow of Castro by force. President John F. Kennedy inherited Eisenhower’s plan for a CIA-run invasion using Cuban exiles. In April 1961, the Bay of Pigs operation was launched, and quickly ended in disaster.
The economic embargo created bad blood between the two countries, and left Cuba isolated and stuck in 1959. It is estimated that Cuba has lost more than $1.1 trillion in trade and tourism. It is a country of old cars, buildings badly in need of repair, no movie theatres or Internet. The embargo has been condemned by Cuban citizens who say it hurts the people and not the leadership in power.
Now, for the first time in more than 50 years, the US and Cuba are willing to put differences behind them. Removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is seen as the first key step to normalizing relations between the two countries. President Obama wants to ultimately open an embassy in Havana again.
Public opinion among Cubans varies as much as that of political leaders. More than half of younger Cuban Americans want the embargo lifted, but older ones, whose families fled Cuba to escape Castro’s regime, want to see it remain in place. It’s going to be a huge issue in the next presidential campaign since more than 70 percent of Cubans live in the swing state of Florida.
“Our counties have a complicated history (but) we are willing to make progress,” said Cuban President Raul Castro, who met with Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on April 11.
President Barack Obama said Cuba has not supported terrorism over the last 6 months, and has given assurances it will not in the future.
In a statement, the president said, the new deal with Cuba will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”