Cuba formally removed from state sponsors of terrorism list

The U.S. formally dropped Cuba from its state sponsors of terrorism list Friday, removing another barrier as the two countries try to re-establish diplomatic ties after 54 years of isolation.

The State Department announced last month it had completed a review of Cuba’s place on the list, determining the nation’s government had not assisted terrorist organizations in the preceding six months and had made assurances it would not do so in the future. Under federal law, the State Department was required to provide a 45-day review period, which ended Friday.

Many Republicans in Congress objected to the decision, saying Cuba still harbors known terrorists and U.S. fugitives from justice. But those issues were not enough to keep Cuba from being removed from the list, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Friday.

“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” Rathke said in a statement.

Cuba’s removal from the list takes away one of the largest impediments to normalization talks between Cuba and the U.S. that have been ongoing since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in December that the two countries would end their diplomatic isolation.

Officials from both countries met in Washington, D.C., last week to try to finalize an agreement to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals. While the two sides did not reach a final agreement, they said a deal could be struck soon. Cuba’s removal from the terrorism list will help those negotiations.

Cuba’s removal also means it will have more access to global financial markets and loans from international organizations such as the World Bank.

While the U.S. maintains its economic embargo on Cuba, which can only be changed by an act of Congress, new rules published by the Obama administration in January allowed for some financial openings. Milton Vescovacci, a Miami-based attorney who heads the international business transactions group at the GrayRobinson law firm, said many of those banks remained hesitant to engage with Cuba while it remained on the terrorism list.

“This will help ease that,” he said.

The most immediate change could be the use of American-issued credit and debit cards in Cuba. The new rules published in January allowed for such transactions for the first time, and American Express and MasterCard have announced that they would allow their cards to be used on the island. But no American bank has agreed to handle those transactions, which Vescovacci feels will soon change now that Cuba has been removed from the terrorism list.

“This is going to open the door to more banking, more credit-card processing,” he said. “Cuba’s going to benefit a lot from this.”

source: usatoday.com by Alan Gomez

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