US Gives Cuba the Terrorism Treatment, WHAT?

(Jan. 6) — What does a small, Caribbean island nation called Cuba have in common with Iran, Sudan and Syria?

They are the four countries deemed “state sponsors of terrorism” by the State Department and, along with 10 other “countries of interest,” are therefore subject to new transportation security measures stemming from the failed Christmas Day terrorism plot.

Passengers flying from these countries to the United States will now be subjected to “enhanced screening,” which could include full-body pat downs, property searches and screening by advanced-imaging machines in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.

Travel between Cuba and the United States is already difficult. Until April, Cuban-Americans with family living on the island were restricted to one visit a year. Americans cannot travel to the island as tourists, only as journalists, businessmen, academics or religious groups — and even then they must first obtain a license.

Many are surprised that the U.S. considers Cuba to pose the same level of security risk as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen, the State Department’s “countries of interest.”

There is no history of radical Islam in Cuba. In fact, there is hardly any history of Islam at all,” Eugene Robinson wrote in The Washington Post. “With its long-standing paranoia about internal security and its elaborate network of government spies and snitches, the island nation would have to be among the last places on Earth where al-Qaida would try to establish a cell, let alone plan and launch an attack.”

The closest thing to terrorism on the island is probably the mass of inmates at Guantanamo Bay.

But Cuba has been considered a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1982, when the Reagan administration designated it as such, long before “al-Qaida” was a regular phrase in American dialogue. At the time, Cuba had a reputation for supporting revolutionary movements in Latin America.

A 2008 State Department report gives three reasons for keeping the country on the list:

1) By not trying to “track, block or seize terrorist assets” and by providing safe haven for terrorist groups like the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombian militias FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army), the Cuban government wasn’t supportive of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

2) The Cuban government provides safe haven for more than 70 fugitives, “most of whom entered Cuba in the 1970s.”

3) The Cuban government didn’t extradite terrorists during the year.

Today these claims stand on shaky ground. Former President Fidel Castro stopped supporting the ELN in 1991 and never militarily supported FARC. Instead, the Colombian government, the United Nations and the European Union have all said that Cuba has been helpful in advancing peace talks with the rebel groups, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

A 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service says that in 1992, Castro outwardly gave up his support of insurgencies, largely because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the finances it brought with it.

The State Department has itself acknowledged that in 2006, the Cuban government said it would not provide a safe haven for new American fugitives.

Cuba’s official newspaper, Gramma, accused the U.S. on Monday of falling prey to “anti-terrorist paranoia,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

But for now at least, passengers on the island’s sparse daily flights to the U.S. can expect tighter security, just like passengers from 13 other countries thousands of miles away.

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