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  April 14, 2015

Obama To Remove Cuba from "Terror" List

Aviva Chomsky, author of The History of the Cuban Revolution, says there are many more hurdles ahead before diplomatic relations can be established between Cuba and the US
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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

In breaking news, the White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the American government's list of nations that sponsor terrorism. This was one of the topics of discussion between the two presidents on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas that took place in Panama City last week. Removing Cuba from the list removes a major obstacle in reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two nations, but perhaps a lot more.

To discuss the move I'm joined by Aviva Chomsky. She's a historian, activist, and author of eight books, including The Cuba Reader, and A History of the Cuban Revolution. She teaches at Salem State University in Massachusetts, where she is also the coordinator of the Latin American studies program.

Aviva, thank you so much for joining The Real News Network.

AVIVA CHOMSKY, AUTHOR, THE CUBA READER: Thanks so much for inviting me, it's great to be here.

PERIES: So Aviva, what does it signify, this move to declare his intentions of removing Cuba from the list?

CHOMSKY: Well, this is one more step in a process which may turn out to be a quite lengthy process. I think that the real bombshell was when the two presidents, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, announced that--made their, what they call in Cuba 17/12, December 17th announcement that the two countries would be reestablishing relations.

Clearly the presence of Cuba on this list of state sponsors of terrorism has been absurd for the past two decades. There's been absolutely no reason for Cuba to be on that list. And being on that list is actually quite significant in terms of what kinds of punishment the United States exacts on entities that conduct financial relations with anybody who's on that list. So it had a severe--just being on the list has a severe economic effect in Cuba, whether or not relations are reestablished.

But we should also remember that Cuba is not off the list yet. This has to be approved by Congress. So, so this--

PERIES: And that's a tall order these days. I am wondering, could you sort of just for our audience who hasn't been following this issue historically, what does this mean in terms of getting removed from the list, if it happens? What will Cuba be able to do that it wasn't able to do before?

CHOMSKY: Well, American banks will be able to do business with Cuba, and any institution that has relations with the United States, or financial institutions in the United States, will now be able to do business with Cuba. So being on the list had severe--I mean, the political effects of it were more symbolic than anything. And really I think the political effects were more detrimental to the United States than to Cuba, because it was so ridiculous. It just looked--it made the United States look stupid to keep insisting. And clearly the United States has been extremely isolated in the world and in the hemisphere in terms of its hostile policies towards Cuba.

And the purported reasons that Cuba was on this list as a state sponsor of international terrorism was because of its granting refuge to members of the Basque organization ETA, and the Colombian organization, the FARC. Now, while it's true that both ETA and the FARC have carried out armed acts of resistance against their respective governments, in both cases Cuba granted refuge at the request of the Spanish government and the Colombian government as part of negotiating peace agreements between these organizations' respective governments. So to claim that that was sponsoring terrorism was really quite far-fetched.

PERIES: And let's take a look at the current negotiations underway to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. What are the other hurdles that are coming up that it will have to encounter besides the one you've just mentioned, which is to get it through Congress?

CHOMSKY: Getting the removal from the terrorist list through Congress is one obstacle, but there's other Congressional obstacles ahead, too. That is basically every step of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations is going to have to go through Congress. And one of the biggest pieces, beyond reestablishing relations, is the embargo or blockade. That can only be removed by Congress, and that's really a long shot to imagine that Congress is going--would take a radical step like that. That this Congress would take a radical step like that.

And from Cuba's perspective, establishing relations with us is great. But as long as the embargo or blockade stands, there's still going to be serious economic impacts.

Getting what Obama wants through Congress is one obstacle. But the second obstacle is--we need to look closely at what, exactly, does Obama want? And he made it really clear, and has made it really clear with each of his statements on this, that while the United States wants to have a less hostile relationship with Cuba, it is still our intent to meddle in Cuba's internal affairs and to try to determine what sort of government Cuba should have. And that means that Obama has said nothing about ending the USAID and other programs in Cuba aimed at what he calls democracy promotion, and what really means overthrowing the Cuban government.

PERIES: And Aviva, one other thing that's happening here is that the question of reestablishing relations with Cuba and restoring economic relations is all seen as something that would favor Cuba rather than the United States. And there's huge economic interest on the part of the United States in reestablishing these relations. So I'm wondering whether the Republicans will actually put up a fight against this?

CHOMSKY: I think the Republicans are divided as they have been on many issues, between those sort of old-school Republicans who represent business interests and the radically insane Republicans who represent the more Tea Party sort of interests. The old Republicans who represent business interests--I mean, the Wall Street Journal has called for an end to the embargo. So the business classes and their representatives in Congress, many of whom are Republicans, especially from the farming states--although they've already actually gained a lot of exceptions to the embargo. They are in favor of ending the embargo.

But we have not only the usual Tea Party suspects, but also the Cuban-American right wing, who have already spoken out very, very fiercely against this. So exactly how it's going to all work out in Congress is a little hard to predict.

PERIES: And then finally Aviva, the irony of all of this is while diplomatic relations are in the process of being reestablished with Cuba, the Obama administration has also slammed an executive order declaring Venezuela--an ally of Cuba and very good friends with Cuba--as a national security threat. What does that mean?

CHOMSKY: Well, it means that--I mean, I was saying that in terms of, its, the Obama administration's openly stated desire to continue to attempt to overthrow Cuba's government, just through softer means--I mean, I should also point out that this Track One and Track Two, having a hostile and a friendly way of overthrowing Cuba's government, goes all the way back to the 1990s. That is, it was the Clinton presidency that invented Track One and Track Two. Track Two being the subversion. Being the relationships with what the United States likes to call Cuban civil society. That is, organizations inside Cuba that are working to overthrow the government. And as long as we are supporting those, there's a problem with our relations with Cuba.

But clearly the United States has also committed to not allowing Venezuela to determine what sort of government it wants to have and to interfering in the internal events and policies in Venezuela. So it's also kind of shocking that after, when Venezuela and other Latin American countries at the summit objected to the United States calling Venezuela--or you know, officially determining that Venezuela is a threat to the national security of the United States, I mean that's pretty much as ridiculous as calling Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism--that Obama's response was oh, well, they shouldn't take it seriously. We just had to say that in order to sanction seven officials. We don't really mean it.

Well, for a country that's invaded Latin America so many times in the past century and overthrown so many governments of Latin America in the last century, to say that they shouldn't take us seriously when we say that, when we determine that a country is a threat to our national security, that's pretty naive of us. To say that, oh, well they just shouldn't take it seriously.

PERIES: Aviva, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and shedding some light on this most recent news on Cuba.

CHOMSKY: Oh, you're very welcome. Thanks for having me on.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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