On June 22nd, the New York City City Council, on a unanimous voice vote, passed Resolution 0285 calling upon the president and the United States Congress to end the Cuban embargo and travel ban and remove Cuba from the U.S.’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism list.” Introduced by Council Member Charles Barron, Resolution 0285 was also supported by Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. The City Council, thus, joined nearly 100 state and local legislative bodies, county boards, school boards, unions, workers and other organizations that have passed similar resolutions throughout the United States. Other city councils that have passed similar resolutions include Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New Haven and Pittsburgh

“It is critically important that the New York City Council joins with other city councils, national and local organizations across this country in calling upon the U.S. president and congress to end the cruel and inhumane Cuban economic embargo, travel ban and the insidious placement of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Barron said after the Council vote. “It is time that our legislative body join with 185 countries from around the world who yearly at the United Nations General Assembly condemn the United States’ actions as violations of international human rights.” 

First imposed in 1960, during the Eisenhower administration, the Cuba embargo is the longest economic blockade in history and has been widely condemned. Indeed, every year since 1992 the U.N. General Assembly has adopted a resolution declaring the embargo a violation of both the U.N. Charter and international law. During the most recent vote in November 2022, 185 of the U.N.’s 189 members voted in favor the resolution, the U.S. and Israel voted against it, Brazil and Ukraine abstained.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) have also determined that U.S. sanctions on Cuba “constitute the most severe and prolonged system of unilateral coercive measures ever applied against any country.” Other entities that have expressed their opposition to the Cuban embargo include the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and various other non-governmental organizations.

Designating Cuba as “terrorist” exacerbates the already devastating impacts of the 63-year-old embargo which has cost Cuba an estimated $144.4 billion from the early 1960s to 2020, according to the United Nations. Cuba’s “terrorist” designation restricts American foreign assistance, exports of dual-use items, and loans from the World Bank. It has also prevented Cuban Americans from transferring money to family members in Cuba, stopped faith-based groups from shipping humanitarian supplies, and inhibited American universities from working with Cuban academics and institutions. Non-U.S. citizens who have traveled to Cuba because of its designation a “terrorist” country also have restrictions on visas to enter or visit the United States.

Despite being a list created and maintained only by the U.S., because of the U.S.’s enormous power over the global financial system, the inclusion on the “state sponsors on terrorist list” inhibits the ability of Cuba as well as the other countries listed to trade normally with the rest of the world. Banks are reluctant to risk giving loans to a country labeled as “terrorist” by the U.S. The United States has also sued foreign companies and banks for hundreds of millions of dollars for violating U.S. sanctions on Cuba. Hence, many major international banks no longer provide services to Cuba for fear of retaliation. 

Prior to designating a country on the “state sponsor of terrorism list” the U.S. Secretary of State must first “determine that the government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Once so designated, a state remains in that category essentially until the country’s leadership, laws, policies and practices satisfies the dictates of U.S., remanence of the long- discredited Monroe Doctrine. The other countries on the “terrorist list” are Iran, Syria, and the North Korea.

Cuba was initially placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism during the Reagan administration in 1982 because of its support for anti-colonial struggles around the world, most notably in Africa. In 2015, former Pres. Obama, after a thorough review of the reasons for Cuba’s inclusion on the list concluded that Cuba should be removed from it. The Obama administration removed Cuba from the terror list, saying, “we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.” Following a historic meeting between Obama and then-Cuban President Raúl Castro on the sidelines of the Summit of Americas in Panama, Obama traveled to Cuba. 

Obama’s rapprochement had positive effects for the Cuban and U.S. people, especially renewed travel and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. All of this was undone by Donald Trump. Trump tightened the blockade and added an additional 243 sanctions on Cuba. Then, just four days after the January 6th insurrection, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo redesignated Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” 

The irony of the U.S. labeling Cuba “a state sponsor of terrorism” cannot be overstated. The U.S. is the only country with over 800 foreign military bases and spends more on its military than 144 countries combined. The U.S. has also launched 251 foreign military interventions since 1991. A report recently published by Brown University shows that the post-9/11 wars the U.S. waged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan killed at least 4.5 million and displaced 38 to 60 million people. 

While campaigning for the presidency, Biden promised to reverse the draconian sanctions imposed on Cuba by Trump, including the placement of Cuba on the terrorist list in the waning days of his administration. Contrary to his promises, Biden has continued the majority of the nearly 250 sanctions on Cuba that Trump imposed.

Ending the Cuban embargo, lifting the travel ban and removing Cuba from the “terrorist list” would be beneficial to both the United States and Cuba, particularly in the areas of medical and biotechnological research, education, healthcare, the arts, sports, tourism, economic opportunities. Cuban medical researchers, for example, have a lung cancer vaccine. For Cuba, opening up relations with the U.S. would allow it to access essential medical equipment currently inaccessible because of the embargo. Ending the embargo would also open up trade between Cuba and many other countries by lifting embargo stipulations that currently make it difficult to have relations with both the United States and Cuba. 

The campaign for the passage of Resolution 0285 was initiated by the Legislative Committee of NY-NJ CubaSi. The other local organizations supporting the passage of the resolution included the December 12th Movement, National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Democratic Socialists of America, the Young Communist League, the Communist Party and the Professional Staff Council, the union of City University workers and retirees. The June 22nd vote was followed three days later by protests in front of the White House, in New York and elsewhere in the United States demanding the removal of Cuba from the terrorist list. Copies of the Resolution were sent by Barron’s office to the White House, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.   Joan P. Gibbs, Esq. is a semi-retired constitutional, civil rights and immigration attorney, writer, avid reader.

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