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End the Blockade

Just a week before leaving the White House in January, the Trump administration in the US re-designated Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, imposing further sanctions on its island neighbour. The decision was clearly intended to influence and restrict the commitment by President Joe Biden to normalise relations with Cuba.

Biden served as vice-president when former President Barack Obama removed Cuba from the so-called “terror list”, restored diplomatic relations and eased the destructive economic blockade imposed by the US for almost six decades.

Reversing one of Obama’s most significant foreign policy initiatives, the Trump administration, during its term, applied 240 sanctions which damaged all sectors of the Cuban economy and cost it $5.5 billion last year alone. The blockade and sanctions also made it more difficult for the government to purchase essential medicines and equipment during its efforts to combat the Covid-19 virus.

Announcing the decision, out-going Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited Cuba’s support for the Venezuelan leader, Nicolas Maduro and its refusal to extradite a number of commanders of the Colombian ELN from its country as reasons. Cuba refuted allegations that it assisted terrorism in any country, including in Venezuela, and said that the presence of the ELN leaders was in accordance with protocols set down during the peace process it brokered in Colombia over recent years.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel said his country was the victim of terrorism, referring to an armed attack on its embassy in Washington last April as one recent example.

The Cuban president said the inclusion of his country on the blacklist was helping the US justify the long-standing embargo on the island and other economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. Under the latest moves, most travel and remittances from the US to Cuba will be stopped.

Over the past two decades, Venezuela has sent important oil shipments to Cuba and, in turn, has received tens of thousands of employees, including medical workers to assist with the development of its health and other public infrastructure and services.

Encouraged by Cuban-American and Venezuelan exiles in south Florida, who oppose the socialist government in Cuba and its support for Venezuela, the Trump administration increased restrictions on flights, trade and financial transactions between the U.S. and the island over the past four years.

Republican, Gregory Meeks, the new chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Trump’s designation would not help the Cuban people and would only tie the hands of the Biden administration.

“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 US Capital … that’s hypocrisy,” Meeks said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Among those who called for the removal of Cuba from the US “terror list” was the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Joseph Borrell, also urged US President Joe Biden to eliminate the economic and commercial blockade against Cuba.

“We very much regret Trump’s decision to include Cuba in the list of countries that support terrorism. This decision was taken in the last hours of his term,” Borrell stated in Moscow, during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. “We hope that the new administration will reverse it,” he said.

As Ireland takes its seat on the UN Security Council, the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia King, also sought an end to the US blockade of Cuba.

In a letter to foreign minister, Simon Coveney, she said: “We ask that you work towards the Biden administration reverting to the Obama position on Cuba and also to set out a timetable for the ending of the blockade and agreeing to discussions on matters of US and Cuban interest.”

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