The US government on May 29 formally removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a positive step toward restoring Cuba-US diplomatic relations. US President Barack Obama said in April that he would drop Cuba from the list. In December Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stated they would take steps to restore diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961 by the US. Removal from this list ends a variety of sanctions from the US including opposing financial backing of the World Bank and International Monetary fund, US economic aid bans, and bans on US arms exports. Although not all sanctions have been removed from Cuba, the removal from the list may make private US companies and banks more likely to do business with Cuba. The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations since December and have stated they are close to a deal with to reopen US embassies. As of now, the only countries left on the list are Iran, Syria and Sudan.
World War 4 Report has been keeping a dispassionate record of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) established by the Bush White House. On the day of his 2015 State of the Union address, we offer the following annotated assessment of which moves over the past year have been on balance positive, neutral and negative, and arrive at an overall score:
What do we make of this? Artist Tania Bruguera and some dozen others were arrested in Havana's Revolution Square Dec. 30. Bruguera planned to stage Yo También Exijo (I Also Demand), her participatory performance act that includes an open-mic section. She had succeeded in getting away with the open-mic trick in her performance of another act, El Susurro de Tatlin (Tatlin's Whsiper), at the 2009 Havana Biennial arts affair. But she was denied a permit to take the act to Revolution Square. Cuba's National Visual Arts Council issued a statement saying the performance was "unacceptable" given the "manipulation" of the "counter-revolutionary media." Bruguera's website tags the acts "Unannounced Performance," "Behavior Art Materials," and "Crowd Control Techniques." The planned event was poorly attended—possibly due to police pre-emptive measures. Havana Times ("open-minded writing from Cuba") stated: "Starting around noon Ministry of Interior troops, both in plainclothes and uniformed, were stationed at all points of access to the square..." Then the cops arrested the intended participants. Havana Times also reports that among the detained were Reinaldo Escobar, husband of dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila of opposition group Somos Más (We are More). Most have been released, including Bruguera, although she is apparently barred from leaving Cuba. (14yMedio, ArtForum, Dec. 31) #YoTambienExijo has become a popular hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.
Well, this was inevitable. The case of Assata Shakur affords the US political right the opportunity to take a hit at Obama's opening to Cuba while simultaneously getting subliminal licks in at the Black Lives Matter protests. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was of course the first to grandstand about it, demanding that Cuba turn over the veteran Black Panther he called "Joanne Chesimard" (her former name) before diplomatic ties are restored. He wrote in an open letter to Obama: "If, as you assert, Cuba is serious about embracing democratic principles [sic] then this action would be an essential first step." Cuba, of course, said no dice. Asked if returning fugitives was on the table, Havana's head of North American affairs Josefina Vidal told the AP, "Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted… That's a legitimate right."
In a surprise move, Cuban president Raúl Castro and US president Barack Obama announced in separate television appearances on Dec. 17 that their two countries were now working to renew diplomatic relations, which the US broke off nearly 54 years earlier, in January 1961, under former president Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961). The two countries were releasing a total of 58 prisoners in the agreement, officials said, and the US will loosen some restrictions on contacts with Cuba by US residents; however, the US government's 52-year-old embargo against trade with Cuba will remain in effect.
US president Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement that the US would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba was "an historic triumph for the society and the government of the island," the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada asserted in an editorial the next day. "[T]he hostility converted into Washington's government policy has arrived at its end—although the repeal of the blockade laws is still pending—and this occurred without Havana's having made any concession in its political and economic model." The paper added that the policy change demonstrated "the correctness of the position of the Latin American governments, which advocated for decades for an end to the official US hostility to Cuba." (LJ, Dec. 18)
On Dec. 17, less than a week after the Associated Press reported on a failed effort by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to co-opt Cuban hip-hop artists, agency administrator Rajiv Shah announced that he was leaving his post in February. Shah's announcement came the same day as news that the US was moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba and that the Cuban government had released imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross. Shah didn't give a reason for his resignation but said he had "mixed emotions." In a statement released that day US president Barack Obama said Shah, who has headed the USAID since December 2009, "has been at the center of my administration's efforts to advance our global development agenda." (AP, Dec. 17)
In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cubans are three of the "Cuban Five," a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group's leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents.