The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the Government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. In a message to Congress, the President said that Cuba “has not provided any support for international terrorism” over the last six months. He also told Congress that Cuba “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”
The President’s decision to remove Cuba from the list eliminates a major obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations. The issue of Cuba being on the list of nations that sponsor terrorism has helped delay the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana. Its being on the list also has impeded Cuba from doing business with American banks, a cornerstone to increase commerce between the two nations.
The President’s final decision followed a State Department review of Cuba’s presence on the list. President Obama ordered a review of Cuba’s status in December, after announcing that he would seek normal ties with the island nation
Cuba will officially be removed from the terrorism list 45 days after the President’s message was sent to Congress. Lawmakers could vote to block the move during the 45 day period. However, any such resolution to block its removal is likely to be vetoed by Mr. Obama.
The construction of Cuba’s first Roman Catholic Church since Castro came to power in 1959 may well be the first test of the new U.S. policy towards Cuba. The new church, with an expected capacity to accommodate at least 200 worshipers, is set to be built in Sandino, a small, secluded town in the province of Pinar del Rio. Most of the money for the church’s construction was raised by the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida. Father Tom Morgan, the vicar of St. Lawrence’s parish, told CNN that he was optimistic that recent changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba would permit his parish to send supplies and building materials to Cuba to help construct the new church.
The changes in Cuba policy mentioned by Father Morgan were put into effect by amending the Commerce Department’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR). On January 16, 2015, the EAR were amended to authorize the export and re-export of certain items to Cuba that are intended to improve the living conditions of the Cuban people. The new regulations permit the export of building materials, equipment and tools for use by the private sector to construct or renovate privately-owned buildings, including places of worship such as the proposed church being built in Sandino. Hence, the efforts of Tampa parishioners to build a church in an out-of the-way village in Cuba could be an early test of the President’s strategy of strengthening civil society in Cuba by supporting independent economic activity.
The new regulations also permit the sending of building materials to Cuba to build privately-owned residences, businesses and buildings for private sector social or recreational use. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s EAR, found at 15 CFR parts 730-774, can be read by clicking here.
Yesterday, President Obama announced wide-ranging adjustments of US policy towards Cuba including opening an embassy in Havana. The Obama Plan involves a series of measures aimed at increasing trade between the two countries. The basic premise of the plan is to permit certain exports to Cuba, relax restrictions on financial transactions and repeal limits on remittances to the island. Secretary of State, John Kerry, will begin to implement the initiative. He is to “immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.”
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The Cuban government recently issued rules and regulations for companies that will operate in the first free-trade manufacturing zone in Cuba. Located in the Port of Mariel, thirty miles west of Havana, the Mariel Special Development Zone will house manufacturing plants that assemble and make products for both domestic and international markets, as well as a megaport designed to eventually replace freight operations at the Port of Havana which cannot accommodate large ships. A highway and railroad infrastructure is also being built to provide access to the zone.
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