Pompeo re-designates Cuba as state sponsor of terrorism

MIAMI – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the U.S has re-designated Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” — rejoining countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea. This comes months after adding Cuba to the list of countries that do not help the U.S. with counter-terrorism programs.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration had removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Its reinstatement had been a longtime goal of President Donald Trump who rolled back Obama’s policy on travel and business.

“The Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine,” Pompeo said in a statement referring to Colombia’s Marxist guerrillas and U.S. fugitives.

The U.S. State Department released the announcement just after Pompeo spoke about the threat of the Chinese Communist Party’s aim at “hegemonic dominance” during an event by Voice of America, a broadcaster funded by the U.S. Congress.

Pompeo criticized Cuba’s relations with Venezuela, also an ally of Iran, China, and Russia. Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018.

“The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces,” Pompeo said, adding Cuba helps Venezuela to allow “terrorist organizations to operate.”


Minutes after the announcement, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez released a statement on Twitter.

“We condemn the US announced hypocritical and cynical designation of #Cuba as a State sponsoring terrorism,” Rodriguez wrote. “The US political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims.”

In this Nov. 6 photo, Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, left, meets with his Iran counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)


María José Espinosa, the deputy director of The Center for Democracy in the Americas, has advocated for engagement with Cubans on the island.

“The designation further complicates academic research and travel, commerce, and bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which will serve to close off options for the incoming administration and bring harm to the Cuban people,” Espinosa said.

John Suarez, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, disagrees. He said the Obama administration had high hopes when there was a shift toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, but the policy had negative effects.

“The Obama administration hoped to see political and economic reforms instituted by the regime,” Suarez said. “Instead, repression and human rights violations increased, as recognized by Obama’s own former Secretary of State John Kerry.”

John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the designation could prompt banks to decide that they want nothing to do with Cuba. Whether companies believe it is political or not, legal teams will likely advise them to tread softly with Cuba. That’s the goal of the Trump administration, to make individuals and companies say Cuba is just not worth the effort, Kavulich said.

“You’re going to have issues relating to finance,” Kavulich said, adding that “if the insurance companies increase their rate, the airlines may pass that along.”

In this Nov. 23, 2020 file photo, a woman waited to retrieve cash from a Western Union office that closed shortly after. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Kavulich believes adding Cuba to the list will hamstring President-elect Joe Biden’s administration as they will be forced to go through a checklist to justify removing Cuba from the list and that could take months.

Also, there are ten members of Congress who are of Cuban descent and they will likely make it harder for Biden to change the designation.


As Democrats take over the Senate, Sen. Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, will chair the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A week ago, on CNN, Menendez pointed to his long career fighting the Castro regime and their human rights abuses.

“The state’s sponsor of terrorism designation has to be done on facts. If the facts substantiate that Cuba should be returned, then certainly I would support that,” Menendez told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the designation will not help Cubans.

“This designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism with less than a week to go in his presidency and after he incited a domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capital ... that’s hypocrisy,” Meeks told The Associated Press.

A man transports children on his tricycle, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Jan 8, 2021, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In Florida, Cuban-American Republicans Rep.-elect Maria Elvira Salazar and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also said they support Pompeo’s decision. Salazar said the brutal Castro dictatorship has been terrorizing the people of Cuba for decades and propping up the murderous dictators.

“The previous administration should never have delisted the Cuban regime in 2015, particularly at a time when the regime’s intelligence services are assisting international terrorist organizations and assisting in the brutal suppression of the Venezuelan people,” Diaz-Balart said.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott applauded the announcement. He released a statement saying, “Cuba continues to oppress its people and those across Latin America by supporting narco-states run by dictators” like Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Pompeo leaves office on Jan. 20, the day of Biden’s inauguration.

Pompeo’s speech at Voice of America event

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.