The Terrorist List, and Terrorism as Practiced Against Cuba

Source: Capitan San Luis Images

Of all the components to the United States hostile strategy against Cuba, nothing raises the ire of the Castro government more than its inclusion on the State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. The designation is seen by Havana as an impediment towards improving relations and as a cruel hypocrisy that provides political cover for Washington to justify the imposition of economic penalties along with the perpetuation of anti-revolutionary propaganda.

There is an opportunity to eliminate that stumbling block in the next few weeks, if newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry decides to recommend Cuba’s deletion from the list to President Obama. Kerry has until the release of the State Department’s annual terror report on April 30 to make the determination of whether Cuba will remain on the terrorist list. High ranking Cuban officials are closely watching this development, indicating the removal could offer an opportunity to re-engage with the United States. [1]

The history of Cuba’s controversial inclusion goes back to 1982, the same year Iraq was taken off the list by the Reagan administration. Besides Cuba, only Sudan, Iran, and Syria continue to be labeled as state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea was dropped in 2008, while Pakistan, long the home of Osama Bin Laden and recognized as a haven for Islamic terrorists, has never been considered. Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from, is looked upon as a staunch ally of the United States.

There are numerous reasons why the Castro government finds its insertion on the list so galling. First are the real economic consequences to the designation. By law the United States must oppose any loans to Cuba by the World Bank or other international lending institutions. Obama administration officials have been using Cuba’s inclusion to make it increasingly difficult for Havana to conduct normal banking transactions that involve U.S. financial establishments, regardless of which currency is being used.  Furthermore, the United States has imposed an arms embargo against all parties placed on the list (which the Castro government has experienced since the triumph of the Revolution) as well as prohibiting sales of items that could be considered to have both military and non-military dual use, including hospital equipment. For example, the William Soler children’s hospital in Havana was labeled a ‘denied hospital’ in 2007 by the State Department, bringing with it serious ramifications. Various medicines and technology have become impossible to obtain, resulting in the deaths of children and the inability of staff to properly deal with a variety of treatable conditions. [2] For Cuba, these restrictions are additionally damaging as the island continues to suffer from the comprehensive embargo the United States has imposed since the early 1960s.

On an emotional level, Havana has long drawn attention to the double standard that permits Washington to label others as a terrorist state, all the while ignoring its own culpability in the multiple acts of terror that have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Cuban civilians. This relatively unreported history stretches back to the early months following Castro’s victory over the Batista regime, when the United States was determined to eliminate the Cuban revolution not only through economic and political means, but with violence. Operation Mongoose, a program developed by the State Department under the overarching Cuba Project, coordinated terrorist operations from the period following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 to the October missile crisis 18 months later. During this time State Department officials provided logistical and material support to violent anti-revolutionary groups carrying out terrorist activities on the island. The terrors included torturing and murdering students who were teaching farmers to read and write, blowing up shoppers at Havana’s busiest department stores, bombing sugar cane plantations and tobacco fields, killing Cuban fishermen and the innumerable attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and other top government officials. [3] Historian Arthur Schlesinger reported in his biography of Robert Kennedy that Operation Mongoose was formulated under the Kennedy administration to bring “the terrors of the earth” to the Cuban people. [4]  It has been called one of the worst cases of state sponsored terrorism of the 20th century. [5] When Operation Mongoose ended, violent anti-Castro groups based in South Florida, such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7, took over operations, often with the tacit approval and knowledge of local and federal authorities. In 1971, the village of Boca De Samá on the northeast coast of Cuba was attacked, leaving two civilians dead and a dozen more injured. Alpha 66 continues to claim credit for this act of terrorism on their website. [6] A series of biological agents were purportedly introduced into Cuba in the 1970s, harming a number of plants and animals. These biological attacks included an outbreak of swine fever that killed a half-million pigs. Perhaps the worst case was the1981 epidemic of Dengue 2, totally unheard of in Cuba prior to this period. More than 300,000 people were affected within a six-month period. An estimated 102 children died as a result of the disease. Cuban-American Eduardo Arocena, former member of Omega 7, testified in 1984 that he travelled to Cuba in 1980 to “introduce some germs” into the country to “start the chemical war,” —as reported by The New York Times. [7]  One of them was Dengue 2.

Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles – The two recognized masterminds of bombing of Cubana Airlines 455 (Source: Cuban Foreign Relations, MINREX)

Havana and Varadero tourist facilities were targeted during a 1997 bombing campaign, resulting in the death of Italian-Canadian businessman Fabio di Celmo when a bomb exploded in the lobby of the Hotel Copacabana. Dozens were injured before the explosions ended with the arrests of a group of Salvadorians who later testified they were being paid to plant the bombs. Claiming responsibility for the campaign was Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-American long known for his violent actions against the Castro regime. He bragged to a The New York Times reporter that the intent of the bombings was to discourage tourists from visiting the island just as Cuba was opening up the industry following the collapse of the Soviet Union. [8]

In addition to the tourist attacks, former CIA agent, Posada Carriles, is infamously known for his alleged masterminding of the bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 in October 1976, killing all 73 on board. The incident remains the second worst act of air terrorism in the Americas, exceeded only by the attacks on 9/11. Evidence points to the involvement of Posada Carriles and fellow Cuban Orlando Bosch with organizing the crime, based on extensive U.S. documentation. [9] Bosch passed away in his Florida residence a few years ago, while Posada Carriles continues to live unfettered in Miami, despite requests for his extradition from the Cuban and Venezuelan governments. Cuba’s demands for Posada Carriles to be brought to justice in part rest on former President George Bush Jr.’s own statement in 2003, “Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and equally guilty of terrorist crimes.” [10] The Cuban government was motivated by such acts of terrorism to send intelligence officers to Florida to infiltrate violent anti-revolutionary organizations. The effort led to the arrest and conviction of five Cuban nationals in 1998 on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Known as the Cuban Five, the release of these agents, who were attempting to prevent further terrorist attacks on their country, continues to be a high priority with Havana and adds another layer of complexity to rapprochement between the two countries. Those close to the Cuban Five episode have always been troubled by the probity of the whole affair and whether the entire trial was fixed by U.S. legal authorities as well as intelligence officials.

The Cuban Five (Source:

Since 1982, an assortment of rationales has been posited to retain the island’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, mostly based on expedient political considerations. Initially, it was the country’s support for revolutionary communist organizations in the third world. When Castro himself renounced backing for insurgents after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, nothing changed. Two long-standing justifications rest on Cuba’s permission to allow alleged Basque ETA terrorists to take up residence on the island in the 1980s, and the harbouring of fugitives from American justice. What remains unsaid is the agreement between the then-Spanish government of Felipe Gonzalez and Cuba to accept members of the separatist ETA Homeland and Freedom organization. [11]  Of the fugitives facing charges in the United States, some have lived in Cuba since the 1970s. While an extradition treaty between Cuba and the United States that was signed in 1904 has never been abrogated, the treaty is considered non-operative and requests are handled on a case by case basis. Despite this informal status, the Cuban side declared in 2005 that safe haven would no longer be provided to American fugitives. Cuba continues to be interested in re-establishing the formal status of the extradition agreement as a means to secure the return of Posada Carriles and others it considers terrorists residing in the United States.

Another pretext for maintaining Cuba on the list is that some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group have been living in Cuba. This argument was considerably weakened last year when peace talks began in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC. Undoubtedly, the most tenuous rationalization followed the terrorist attacks on 9/11 when the United States claimed Cuba was not sufficiently supportive of its war on terror, declaring the Castro government had undertaken little effort to track or seize terrorist assets.  A 2004 State Department report asserted that “Cuba continued to actively oppose the U.S.-led coalition prosecuting the global war on terrorism.” [12] This reasoning has long been undermined by Fidel Castro’s condemnation of the 2001 attack, pointing to his own country’s experiences in his call to bolster efforts to eradicate all forms of terrorism.

Currently, an unrelated matter has been used to justify non-engagement and for Cuba’s retention on the U.S. list of terrorist nations. American citizen Alan Gross was jailed three years ago in Cuba for bringing in illegal telecommunication equipment under a program financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)–a government organization supportive of regime change on the island.  Obama officials have repeatedly stated no improvement in relations can be achieved with Gross in jail. Conversely, the Cuban side indicated there might be an opening in the case if Havana were taken off the list. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland, traveled to Havana recently, returning with expressions of hope for an improved relationship with Cuba under the condition that, “the first step needs to be resolving Alan Gross’s situation.” [13]

There is no sound argument for Cuba’s continued description as a state sponsor of terrorism. Secretary of State Kerry has in his hands a method to end the moral duplicity and possibly help kick start engagement. Kerry, an outspoken critic of what he has called “the failed Cuban policy,” publicly stated his support for the end of travel restrictions and the elimination of the funding for the type of programs in which Gross was involved. [14] He now has the opportunity to put rhetoric into reality, to demonstrate to Cuba and the rest of Latin America that United States policy regarding their contentious neighbor to the south is moving into a new, more mature and constructive period.

Source: UTLAW, University of Texas

More importantly, Kerry should recommend removal from the list, because it is the morally right thing to do. Terrorism is a serious, dangerous blight on modern society—it should not be used for purely political motivations. Both countries have suffered from the scourge, but only one continues to be punished unjustly by an arbitrary and mendacious designation, which is custom-tailored to serve the political requirements of the hard-right Cuban-American community in Miami. Cuba’s inclusion on the list of terrorist states is an outdated rhetorical invention sustained by a decades long antagonism between two opposing ideologies, which all along has impeded efforts to move towards an improvement in relations. It is time for Cuba to be taken off the list.

Keith Bolender is a Guest Scholar at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a freelance journalist, and the author of “Cuba Under Siege: American Policy, the Revolution and its People” (Palgrave 2012).

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated.

For additional news or analysis on Latin America, please go to: Latin News


[1] Associated Press, “US on verge of momentous Cuba decision: Whether to take island off controversial terror list,” March 23, 2013.

[2] Bolender, Keith, “Cuba Under Siege,” Palgrave 2012.

[3] Bohning, Don, “The Castro Obsession,” Potamic Books, 2005.

[4] Chomsky, Noam, “Hegemony or Survival,”  Noam Chomsky,  Metropolitan Books, 2003.

[5] Schoultz, Lars, “That Infernal Little Cuban Republic,” University of North Carolina Press, 2009.


[7] Franklin, Jane, “Looking for terrorists in Cuba’s health system,” Z Magazine, June 2003.

[8] Bardach, Ann Louise and Larry Rohter, “Key Cuba foe claims exile’s backing”  The New York Times, July 12 1998.

[9] Posada Carriles, Luis, National Security Archives, The declassified record

[10]; Source: The White House, online, May 2003 [] made during his speech “President George W. Bush’s Address announcing end of major combat operations in Iraq,” May 1, 2003.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2004 (issued in April 2005),; The State Department’s 2006 Country Reports on terrorism,

[13] Associated Press, “US on verge of momentous Cuba decision: Whether to take island off controversial terror list,” March 23, 2013.

[14] “Open Cuba to US travelers,” Tampa Bay Times, John Kerry, December 7, 2009.

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15 thoughts on “The Terrorist List, and Terrorism as Practiced Against Cuba

  • April 22, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    How many times have we held out expectations for our Government to do the right thing with Cuba only to be disappointed time and time again. Hopefully Kerry will ask the President to do the right thing. Both are good people, but the anti-Cuba lobby has a strong hold on US policy to the detriment of its citizens and those in Cuba. We are so hypocritical when it comes to Cuba and other nations who are given preferential status yet have much worse human rights records. The time is now to make things better, repeal the designation. Peace

  • April 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm


    ALJAZEERA VIDEO: Cuba dissidents Ladies in White – After 53 years of revolution, Cubans ar increasingly exasperated by the restrictions imposed on them by the country's change-averse communist regime. In spite of, or perhaps because of, recent modest economic reforms, activism is growing as the government's opponents overcome their fear of arrest and take to the streets. But it is not easy. Today, even the church based Ladies in White — a group of women relatives of imprisoned activists – say they are routinely spied on and arrested. Nevertheless, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Ladies are determined to keep up their protests, sensing that the regime's grip on power is fading and that sooner rather than later it will be forced to give way.

    AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL VIDEO: Routine repression in Cuba – Harassment and detention of political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and bloggers across Cuba has risen sharply over the past 24 months. – Mar 22, 2012

    • April 23, 2013 at 11:28 am

      in one breath you say that the Cuban government is so horrible and locks up all of these people whos wives go to the streets and protest and in another you say that the Cuban people are taking to the streets. If the Cuban government is as bad as you people say it is, why don't they just make the wives (laides in white) disappear? I was talking to a Canadian geologist who worked in Cuba for months. He was allowed to travel around the interior of the country on his own, with no escort. He was allowed to discuss any topic with the people. His impression of the Cuban people was that they were poor, but happy. Maybe they wouldn't be so poor if America wasn't oppressing them for the last 50+ years by the imposition of the stupid embargo. Why don't you ever discuss the FACT that Castro offered to hold free and open elections shortly after the revolution if America would end it's embargo, but Kenedy declined the offer, thinking that he could grind them into submission with the embargo.

      • April 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm

        I freely walked the neighborhoods of Havana for several days and was invited into many homes. I found Cubans to be highly educated and not so poor. Yes, many small homes on the outside appear in disrepair, inside is another story. Additionally, almost 100% of the people are able to converse on a US college graduate level on quite complex environmental subjects involving sociology, politics and the environment; something that cannot be said about US citizens.

        And when I say I walked the neighborhoods, I mean I eventually found streets to narrow for cars and some which I can only assume were narrow trails as old as before the colonial powers arrived. I walked pathways between houses that were occasionally so narrow I side stepped through. Everyone was happy to talk to a sociologist from California; Cubans are quite clear that if everyone lived as they do, in a state I referred to as vivir bien, then Earth would heal and humanity could live in peace.

        • April 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

          Garrett Connelly !! So where can we find that anthropologists study dear? I always say, listen to the everyday Cuban citizen from the island and forget what the Castro "government" says or clueless tourists who would never live in Cuba on $20 and not internet!

          YOUTUBE: DOCUMENTARY: "Cuba and the Elephants" – Full version w / English Sub-titles: A Look at Cuba, in reality beyond its tourist attractions. A documentary that takes us to reflect on the achievements of the socialist system and how truly the common Cuban people live. A production of the Political Institute of Peru for Liberty.

          YOUTUBE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY: "Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution" – The Grandchildren of the Revolution gives the youth a voice to share their feelings of hope and despair. Some speak with humor, many do it in defiance. The film tries to capture the vibe of Cubas youth today. Featuring artists like: Los Aldeanos, Porno para Ricardo, Silvito El Libre and bloggers Claudia Cadelo, Yoani Sanchez and Laritza Diversent, the film was directed by Carlos Montaner with the help of young camera men and women who visited the island throughout a span of several months. SPANISH WITH ENGLISH SUB-TITLES

      • April 25, 2013 at 7:11 pm

        Dear Bill (without a last name, why not?)!! Can you provide a link to this "FACT"! As far as the Ladies in White is concerned, they have too much international visibility, specially in the age of twitter, facebook and specially instant messaging dear! The Castro Oligarchy does not want a "bad reputation" when they the money$$$$$$!!! And this "they are poor but happy" is an INSULT to any Cuban citizen in the island!
        FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: The Castro family playground- Blake Hounshell
        Friday, May 2, 2008During the past few years family members of both Fidel and Raúl Castro have come to occupy important positions in Cuba's government. This Castro clan represents in addition to the military, the security apparatus and the Communist Party, a significant force in Cuba's political and economic structures.

        Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart- Relationship: Fidel Castro's son
        Position: Advisor, Ministry of Basic Industry

        Col. Alejandro Raúl Castro Espin – Releationship: Raúl Castro's son
        Position: Chief, Intelligence Information Services, Ministry of the Interior; Coordinator, Intelligence Exchange with China

        Ramón Castro Ruz- Relationship: Fidel and Raúl's oldest brother
        Position: Advisor, Ministry of Sugar

        Dr. Antonio Castro Soto – Relationship: Fidel Castro's son
        Position: Investment Chief, Frank Pais Hospital. Doctor for Cuba's baseball team

        Major Raúl Alejandro Rodríguez Castro – Relationship: Raúl Castro's
        Position: Raúl Castro's military guard in charge of his personal security

        Deborah Castro Espin – Relationship: Raúl Castro's daughter
        Position: Advisor, Ministry of Education

        Mariela Castro Espin – Relationship: Raúl Castro's daughter
        Position: Head, Center for Sexual Education

        Marcos Portal León – Relationship: Married to Raúl Castro's niece
        Position: In charge of nickel industry, member of the Central Committee
        of Cuba's Communist Party

        Col. Luís Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja – Relationship: Raúl Castro's son-in-law
        Chief Executive Officer of Grupo GAESA (Grupo de Administración de Empresas, S.A.) which supervises military enterprises Alfonsito Fraga, Related to Raúl CastroMinistry of
        Foreign Relations

  • April 22, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    NOT “5″ BUT 12 CUBAN SPIES: The “Five Cuban Heroes” proclaimed by the Cuban regime were actually part of a network of 12 spies that infiltrated the U.S. In addition to the five spies who maintained their innocence but were convicted in a jury trial (with no Cuban-American jurors), five pleaded guilty to charges of spying in exchange for reduced sentences, one was deported, and one fled to Cuba to escape arrest. The trials cost U.S. taxpayers one million dollars to provide the defendants with a free legal representation. An appeals court is reviewing the five spies’ conviction.


    In 1995, after obtaining FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court approval, the FBI obtained warrants to surreptitiously search apartments and monitor telephone communications by a group of Cubans who were Cuban intelligence operatives. The group, through its principal agents or illegal officers, communicated directly with the Cuban Government about its activities and received specific missions and taskings from the Cuban Government. The instructions were subsequently relayed to the other members of the spy ring as appropriate.

    During the searches, the FBI uncovered and read the contents of the communications from and to the Cuban Government. This information was concealed in hidden files on computer floppy diskettes kept in the residences of three of the principal agents.

    At Cuban Government direction, the Cuban spy ring collected and reported information on domestic, political, and humanitarian activity of anti-Castro organizations in the Miami-Dade county area; the operation of US military installations; and other US Government functions, including law enforcement activity. The spy ring also carried out tasks in the United States as directed by the Cuban Government, which included attempted penetration of US military installations, duplicitous participation in and manipulation of anti-Castro organizations, and attempted manipulation of US political institutions and government entities through disinformation and pretended cooperation. The spy ring received financial support from the Cuban Government to carry out its tasks.


    • April 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

      Yes, and after WWII, the American government, via the Catholic Church in Italy distributed millions of dollars to anti Socialist/Communist entities effecting the free elections there. The U.S. has sponsored only Jesus knows how many coups, two bit dictators, etc., etc., etc., around the globe since time emortal. The U.S. sponsored terrorist attacks agains Cuba, downing civilian aircraft with innocents aboard and bombing hotel lobbies in Cuba. Cuba sent people to try to get ahead of the curve on these terroist attacks, just like the U.S. does all around the world today. They have a right to defend themselves against U.S. sponsored terrorism. End of!

  • April 22, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Cuba Transition Project- Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies
    University of Miami

    Cuban Espionage Targets the U.S. Government – Vanessa Lopez is a Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.
    The above mentioned individuals (with the exception of Coll) have been the highest-level Cuban infiltrations of the U.S. government – that we know of. However, Cuban intelligence has orchestrated countless efforts to penetrate U.S. government and military installations at lower levels.

    Some of these attempts became public knowledge with the dismantling of the Wasp Network in Florida, the trial of the five Cuban spies known as “the Cuban Five,” and the testimony of the other five Cuban agents captured in conjunction with “the Cuban Five” that made plea deals in 1998. It was revealed that Cuban agent Nilo Hernandez monitored movements at the Homestead Air Force Base and reported findings to Cuba. As instructed, Antonio Guerrero obtained a job at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West, FL as a maintenance man and collected visual military intelligence for Cuba. Other military installations that the Wasp Network was ordered to infiltrate include U.S. Southern Command and MacDill Air Force Base. (17) In 2001, “The Cuban Five” were tried and received varying sentences. Hernandez received two life terms, Labanino and Guerrero received life in prison, Fernando Gonzales received 19 years, and Rene Gonzales received 15 years. However, after numerous motions of appeal, Labanino’s sentence was reduced to 30 years, Guerrero’s to 22 years, and Fernando Gonzalez’s to 18 years. The sentences of the other five spies whom pled guilty ranged between three and seven years. (18)

  • April 22, 2013 at 8:27 pm


    YOUTUBE: Cuba Acto de Repudio Sara Marta y su familia – This video shows part of the act of repudiation toward Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo and her family, April 18 at her home in Rio Verde, Boyeros in Havana. Este video muestra parte del acto de repudio a Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo y su familia, el 18 de abril, en su casa en R�o Verde, Boyeros en La Habana.

  • April 23, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Thank you very much, Keith Bolender, for this comprehensive overview, which should be able to unmask the intentions of disinformation spread about Cuba by exile Cuban hardliners being on disinformation tour currently in Europe, as well. Hopefully, it will be spread widely.
    As for the "Cuban Five": their release of prison is supported by the UN Group on Arbitrary Detention since 2005, and until 2009 by at least 11 Nobel prize winners, among them Günter Grass from Germany, by church dignities lawyers from all over the world, not to forget Amnesty International and more than 300 committees from 106 different countries.
    Apart from the still pending motion for a hearing under the habeas corpus act at Federal District Court in Miami thousands of people around the world ask president Obama each 5th of month to pardon the Cuban Five and the secretary of state, now John Kerry, to grant visas for visiting rights in prison, as long as they aren't free, because two of the wives of the Cuban Five, Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva, are not allowed to visit their husbands in prison (Gerardo Hernández in Victorville) or at the current stay under supervised release somewhere in South Florida (René González).

  • May 16, 2013 at 5:24 am

    Evidence points to the involvement of Postdate Car riles and fellow Cuban Orlando Bosch with organizing the crime, based on extensive U.S. documentation. [9] Bosch passed away in his Florida residence a few years ago, while Postdate Car riles continues to live unfettered in Miami, despite requests for his extradition from the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.
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  • May 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

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  • May 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

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