President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia this week announced that negotiations will soon begin between Colombia and its principal enemy, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that could end his country’s bloody, decades-long civil war. The deal was struck in Havana, with help from Venezuelan, Cuban and Norwegian diplomats. Talks are due to start in Oslo Oct. 5. President Barack Obama, Reuters reported, “is aware of the process and is in agreement.” After the initial round of negotiations in Norway, Colombia’s government and the guerillas are to return to Havana, sit at the negotiating table and not leave until a peace pact is signed.
We can’t know now what this means for Colombia — though we earnestly hope it leads to peace. But one thing we do know is this: Because Cuba made a big contribution to this breakthrough, it undermines arguments by the anti-Cuba hard-liners in Congress. It also poses a direct challenge to Obama’s handling of the U.S.-Cuba relations.
When President Ronald Reagan put Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982, it was a largely political act. It was domestic politics again in the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton kept Cuba listed, as anti-terrorism expert Richard Clarke explained, and the weak rationale for it has waned ever since.
As the Council on Foreign Relations has reported, “intelligence experts have been hard-pressed to find evidence that Cuba currently provides weapons or military training to terrorist groups. In 1998, a comprehensive review by the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Cuba does not pose a threat to U.S. national security, which implies that Cuba no longer sponsors terrorism.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Obama administration announced that Cuba would again be kept on the terrorism list for the 30th consecutive year. Among the allegations that the White House used to defend its decision was that Cuba was harboring and providing political assistance to members of the FARC. Cuba, however, has consistently argued it is simply providing a neutral ground for negotiations between Colombia and its armed insurgents. Now, the fact that the Castro government helped midwife a peace process for Colombia is known, this undercuts one remaining rationale for listing Cuba as a state sponsor of terror.