Pompeo’s final disrespect for the Caribbean
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(15 January 2021) — As if Mike Pompeo hadn’t shown enough disrespect for the Caribbean during his turbid tenure as US Secretary of State, his final parting shot against Cuba was a bridge too far even for those Caribbean leaders who have dutifully adhered and supported Donald Trump’s policies in the hemisphere. While each country’s position on designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism is not discernible from the individual silence of each Caribbean leader, their collective response gives some hope for future Caribbean consensus on geopolitical issues impacting the region. The lack of collective CARICOM opposition to Trump’s policies throughout his chaotic and dangerous presidency allowed Pompeo’s divisive strategy, in particular on the Venezuela crisis, to succeed. Now, not surprisingly, CARICOM speaks with one voice in the final days of the Trump administration when it is clear there is no longer need for the faint-hearted to fear repercussions.
Pompeo’s designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism is a dastardly act of desperation on the part of the Trump administration. It’s a culmination of its dismal failure to dissuade Cuba from support of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, despite the economic pressures imposed over the past four years against the Cuban government. While this designation will no doubt have a negative effect on Cuba’s economy and the well being of the Cuban people, as well as Cuban economic relations globally and with other Caribbean states, Cuba will not be cowered into submission to the will of the United States. Neither should CARICOM states adhere to the requirements of this unlawful designation. CARICOM states, acting collectively, must go beyond condemning this action of the Trump administration by standing in solidarity with Cuba and conducting business as usual without regard to this unjustified designation.
CARICOM’s statement denouncing the Trump administration’s designation of Cuba, and recognizing that “Cuba’s international conduct does not in any way warrant” designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, while a good initial starting point, did not go far enough. We are left guessing how each country will respond. It would have been a major step in unifying the region and sending a strong message had they included a collective firm commitment to ignore the designation and to do business with Cuba without restriction. My expectation is that some Caribbean governments will, but some will not.
Why now, and what does it mean? The first part of this question is easy to understand. Pompeo’s unrelenting campaign against the Maduro regime, including the latest OAS resolution in December 2020, failed to end Maduro’s grip on power. Pompeo has repeatedly blamed Cuba’s support for Maduro, in particular Cuba’s military security support, as a primary reason for the Trump administration’s failure to turn the Venezuelan military against Maduro. Thus, according to Pompeo, Cuba’s support for Maduro keeps him in power. This was the final non-military action the Trump administration had in its tool box to punish Cuba before the end of Trump’s presidency on January 20, 2021. In essence, it is a final desperate attempt to hurt the government and people of Cuba.
From the very outset of the Trump administration it was determined that President Barack Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba would be targeted for reversal. As part of that evolution of renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama rescinded the designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 2015. That designation was imposed on Cuba by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. For many years, Cuba was one of five countries on the list. The others were Syria, Iran, Sudan and North Korea; Sudan’s designated was rescinded by the State Department on December 14, 2020. Cuba was designated by the Trump administration on January 12, 2021.
Pompeo’s action to designate Cuba met with strong objections by Congressional leaders. Following a signal by Pompeo of his intention to designate Cuba, nine leading Democratic Party Senators wrote to him expressing their opposition. According to the Senators (Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeff Markley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Tina Smith (D-MN)), the Trump administration’s “efforts to politicize important decisions concerning our national security are unacceptable and threaten to damage future diplomatic efforts toward Cuba….” The Senators, in clear reference to Pompeo’s lack of adherence to the standard review process, including consultation with Congress, required before designation, noted that this action sets a harmful precedent for future designations.
Also, quite significantly, Representative Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement on January 11, 2021, angrily denouncing the designation of Cuba. Rep. Meeks, stated, “I am outraged that Donald Trump is designating Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism less than a week after he incited a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol. The hypocrisy from President Trump and Secretary Pompeo is stunning but not surprising.” Rep. Meeks highlighted the fact Trump administration’s policy towards Cuba “has been focused on hurting the Cuban people” and that Trump “has always seen Cuba as a political football with zero regard for the long-suffering Cuban people.” Rep. Meeks urged President-elect Biden to add reversal of this foreign policy failure of Donald Trump to his long ‘to do’ list when he takes office.
One obvious conclusion is that this desperate act by the Trump administration is another in a series of actions taken by the Trump administration to make it difficult for President-elect Biden to pursue his foreign policy objectives, among which is reversing Trump’s Cuba policy. During the presidential campaign, President-elect Biden said he would reverse Trump’s Cuba policy and continue the process of normalization started by President Obama. However, rescinding this designation will not be immediate, as it will require a review process that includes consultation with Congress. But, there is early indication President-elect Biden will have support in the Congress, including from the powerful Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The list of foreign policy reversals on President-elect Biden’s agenda, as well as the myriad domestic challenges his new administration will face, is indeed a long one. Thus reversal of the Cuba designation is unlikely to be among his priorities. However, it should be a priority for CARICOM member states and they should ensure that their voices are heard loud and clear in Washington in order to drown out the anti-Castro Cuban-American community in Florida. A pro-active CARICOM will have many allies.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
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