Democratic federal lawmakers from Massachusetts are calling on President Biden to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism (SSOT) list as quickly as possible.
In a letter addressed to the President, and signed by Reps. Ayanna Pressley, James P. McGovern, Seth Moulton, Lori Trahan and Stephen F. Lynch, as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, the lawmakers advised Biden that Cuba was removed from the SSOT list in 2015 by him and then President Obama after determining the designation was “without merit.”
The Trump administration placed Cuba back on the list in January 2021, which according to the Democratic lawmakers, was “a vindictive action” as he was leaving office.
The lawmakers said the policy is “overdue for change,” adding that Cuba and the U.S. have been working together to counter terrorism.
“We believe the time to act and remove Cuba from the SSOT list is now – not months from now,” the letter reads. “There is no political or other policy argument that can justify the U.S. continuing to knowingly add to the suffering of the Cuban people.”
The letter explains that all sectors of Cuban society are facing unabated hardships, which have driven thousands to abandon their homes and migrate to the U.S.
“It therefore runs counter to U.S. direct interests to continue the collective economic restrictions that result from Cuba remaining on the SSOT list,” the letter reads.
Additionally, the lawmakers reminded Biden that Colombian President Gustavo Petro asked him to remove Cuba from the list to facilitate peace negotiations between Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.
The President of Mexico also asked that Cuba’s designation be rescinded, the lawmakers noted.
“As a candidate for President, you promised to address re-engagement with Cuba and return to the policy begun during the Obama-Biden administration, and we supported you on this commitment,” the letter reads. “We recognize that much has changed in Cuba and in the United States since 2018, but two and a half years into your Presidency, the overwhelming number of sanctions put in place by your predecessor, including placing Cuba back on the SSOT list, remain in effect.
“We call on you now, Mr. President, to help ordinary Cubans at this critical time by acting swiftly to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. It is the only option worthy of the United States, and we stand ready to support you in this decision,” the letter concluded.
In January 2021, the U.S. State Department announced the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terror, accusing it of providing safe harbor to malicious actors and engaging in “malign behavior” in the region.
The designation returned the Caribbean nation to a list that it was on from Ronald Reagan’s administration and until that of Barack Obama. In 2016, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928.
The Obama administration attempted to normalize relations in 2015 but encountered resistance from President Trump, whose administration recently argued that Cuba had failed to cooperate on counterterrorism.
State Department officials said Cuba refused to extradite 10 suspects wanted in Colombia for a police academy bombing that killed 22 people and injured dozens more. Authorities also accused Cuba of harboring multiple American fugitives, including Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur. She was convicted of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.
Former top Obama adviser Ben Rhodes called on the Biden administration to reverse Trump’s decision in January 2021.
“The Biden Administration should not allow itself to be constrained by last minute political favors being done by an authoritarian administration that recently sought to overthrow the democratically elected U.S. government,” Rhodes tweeted. “This decision should be reversed as soon as possible.”