If you happened to have found yourself in possession of a hijacked airplane circa 1970, chances are that you would have steered it to Cuba. From 1968 through 1972, over 80 American civilian jetliners were hijacked to the communist island. So popular was Cuba as a destination for airline hostage takers that the British Sun newspaper once featured a photograph of a flight attendant with the caption, “Coffee, tea, or-Castro?” on its front page.
This history is relevant in light of the Obama administration’s announcement Tuesday that it will remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Obama had called for a review of the listing back in December, and the move comes as part of his broader push for normalizing relations between the two countries. De-listing Cuba will make it much easier for U.S. financial institutions to conduct business in Cuba and for Americans to use their credit and ATM cards on the island. It will also pave the way for Obama’s ultimate goal-the upgrading of the Cuban interests section in Washington to an embassy-as Cuban diplomats were unable to open bank accounts due to the sanctions.
To date, the United States has received nothing substantive in return for the raft of concessions it has made to the Castro regime. Taking Cuba off the state sponsors of terrorism list without any reciprocal moves from Havana on human rights issues is a logical next step. But removing Cuba is not only poor negotiating strategy, it’s also wrong on the merits. Havana is still harboring dozens of terrorists-including several Americans.
On Wednesday, the State Department announced that “Cuba has agreed to enter into a law-enforcement dialogue with the United States that will work to resolve these cases.” By “resolve,” it must mean “ignore,” because Washington has already lost nearly all leverage it has with Havana. The Cubans have long stated that they will never turn the terrorists they consider political refugees. Having been given nearly everything they want by the Obama administration – short of the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which, considering the way these “negotiations” have progressed, may be the next unilateral concession Washington will make — there is even less reason for them to give an inch now. As long as President Obama wants normalization more than the Cubans do – which he evidently does, given the secretive way he went about the negotiations leading up to the announcement in December – then normalization will occur, regardless of American national interests.
Cuba was originally placed on the terrorism list in 1982, as punishment for its support of communist insurgencies in places ranging from Nicaragua to Angola. In recent years, it shared a place on that list with just Iran, Sudan, and Syria. (The Bush administration controversially removed North Korea in 2008.) There are some 70 American fugitives from justice living in Cuba today, though not all are terrorists. And while Cuban soldiers may no longer be fighting American-backed proxies in Southern Africa, Cuba remains something of a Star Wars cantina of violent Cold War-era radicals.
Read more at The Daily Beast.