On Friday, the Obama White House removed Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism. The move is a critical step in normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. President Obama first notified Congress that he planned to remove Cuba from the list on April 14th. Secretary of State John Kerry removed Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror on Friday, at the end of a 45-day congressional notification period. The designation had been in effect since 1982, during Ronald Reagan’s first presidential term.
Several prominent Republicans were quick to criticize the Obama administration for improving diplomatic relations with Cuba and lifting the state sponsor of terror label. House Speaker John Boehner lamented that Obama “handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing.” GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush complained that the decision was “further evidence that President Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them”.
Not all Republicans were critical of the Obama administration’s actions, however. Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake supported the move, arguing that:
Time has gotten away from those who favor the old policy. It’s so yesterday.
In 2014, President Obama relaxed some travel and trade restrictions with Cuba that helped pave the way to Friday’s decision. Since Obama lifted those restrictions, some Americans have been able to travel to Cuba legally by boat or airplane, and trading between the United States and Cuba has resumed on a modest scale.
With Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terror, only Iran, Syria and Sudan remain on the shrinking list of terrorist supporting nations. Cuba’s inclusion on the list has long been viewed by critics of the Cuba trade embargo as an unnecessary relic of the Cold War. Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba is a welcome shift from that outdated policy.
While some Republicans will continue to bash President Obama for making diplomatic overtures to the Cuban government, the trade and travel ban has not made political sense for at least the past decade. Friday’s decision is a pragmatic and sensible step towards improving relations between the United States and Cuba. That move was long overdue.