U.S. Increases Sanctions on Cuba Hindering Prospects for Trade

U.S. adds sanctions to Cuba as terrorism sponsor
(file photo)

Published Jan 12, 2021 3:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. State Department announced that it has re-designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism further increasing the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. It is a continuation of the hardline stance the administration took against Cuba seeking to reverse the efforts of the Obama administration to improve the situation by opening relations with the island nation.

Cuba returns to the list of state sponsors supporting terrorism  having been removed by the Obama administration in 2015. It joins only three other nations, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, which had this designation from the State Department.

Returning to the terrorist list subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba. It also restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes controls on some exports. 

In announcing its decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the actions were, “following its broken commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal by the previous administration in 2015.  With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”

For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bomb makers, and hijackers the State Department said in its announcement citing 1970s era fugitives that are living on the island. 

They also cited Cuba’s refusal of Colombia’s requests to extradite members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, living in Cuba that are believed responsible for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy. In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for the action, the State Department also said that the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region including assisting Venezuela’s embattled president Nicholas Maduro.

“The United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their desire for a democratic government and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion, expression, and association,” said Secretary Pompeo. “Until these rights and freedoms are respected, we will continue to hold the regime accountable.”

The move is seen as an action to further complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s promises to seek to renew the Obama era efforts to build relations with Cuba. U.S. companies had supported those efforts benefiting from the first efforts to restore trade since it had been cut off with the island nearly sixty years ago. 

The cruise industry had benefited from Obama’s efforts. The first regularly scheduled cruises to Cuba since the 1950s resumed and were attracting strong interest among travelers. Yesterday, during the company’s quarterly conference call with the investment community, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald was asked about the possibilities of resuming Cuba cruises. He said, “we'll be well prepared to be able to operate in whatever the guidelines and rules and regulations are,” based on what happens with the incoming administration. “We'll be prepared to, again, help people who really want to go to Cuba, see it the best way we feel, which is arriving the cruise and then experiencing what Cuba has to offer when it opens.”

Cuba was quick to respond to the Trump administration calling the actions "political opportunism."

Experts familiar with the current sanctions noted that the U.S. already maintains a broad range of economic sanctions. In June 2019, the Trump administration withdrew permission for group travel to Cuba and a few months later suspended regularly scheduled air travel. In 2020, private charter flights were also restricted.