US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has hinted that he wants to redesignate “evil” Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a late-term move that would pile pressure on the communist island.
In an interview released Tuesday, Pompeo confirmed that the State Department was looking at taking the major step before he leaves office on January 20 — throwing a wrench into any diplomatic outreach to Cuba by President-elect Joe Biden.
“We don’t get out in front of decisions that will be made on designations, but the world knows Cuba’s evil hand in so many places,” Pompeo told the Bloomberg television show of investor David Rubenstein.
Pompeo pointed to Cuba’s staunch support for Venezuela’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, whom President Donald Trump’s administration has unsuccessfully tried to oust, saying Havana has caused “massive pain” in the economically ravaged South American nation.
“It is completely appropriate for us to consider whether Cuba is in fact sponsoring terrorism,” Pompeo said.
“And if so, just like any other nation that is providing material support to terrorists, they too should be designated such and treated in a way that’s consistent with that behavior that they’re undertaking.”
Then-president Barack Obama in 2015 delisted Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism — a designation that severely impedes foreign investment — as he declared a half-century US effort to isolate the island to be a failure.
Trump has reversed many of Obama’s overtures to Cuba and slapped sanctions on Venezuela, winning him support in the crucial electoral state of Florida.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweet described the bid to place Cuba back on the terror watch list as Pompeo’s “whimsical personal campaign.”
Following through on it, he added, would “confirm that in the US the corrupt loyalty to minority interests is stronger (than) the commitment to fight this international scourge” of terrorism.
Biden has indicated he wants to return at least to some engagement started under Obama, including allowing Cuban-Americans to visit family and send money.
Biden could remove Cuba from the terror list but not immediately, as the State Department would need to undertake a formal review.
Only three nations — US adversaries Iran, North Korea and Syria — are listed as state sponsors of terrorism after Trump recently removed Sudan following its political transition.