Category Archives: Cuba

Cuba Grapples With Debt

The Cuban government has negotiated an agreement with the Paris Club, an informal body representing a collection of relatively rich creditor nations, regarding a significant portion of Cuba’s foreign debt. Specifically, Havana consented to pay Paris Club lenders $15 billion to cover longstanding obligations originating from a largely unaddressed Cuban financial default in 1986. The figure encompasses the principle amount due as well as subsequently accumulated service charges, interest and penalties.

“The final amount of $15 billion has been approved by both parties, so that is a big first step and now the creditors will meet to set policy for formal talks,” an anonymous diplomat involved with the negotiations told the press.

With the $15 billion bill established, Cuba and the Paris Club can now move on to the next phase of negotiations -restructuring the country’s payment plan. Sources with intimate knowledge of talks were confident that the lender nations, eager to settle Cuba’s external debt situation and clear the way for foreign investment in the Caribbean nation, would be open-minded and agree to accommodating payment terms with Havana.

“Everyone wants to put this behind them now and move forward, and frankly, after 30 years I think the banks will be happy just to get something back,” another diplomatic insider explained.

While the Cuban government remains unwilling to publicly comment on its debt negotiations, it nonetheless appears genuinely considered with covering Cuba’s foreign obligations. Current Cuban President Raul Castro, a veteran of the 1959 Revolution and the brother of Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro, has repeatedly voiced his intention to get Cuba’s fiscal house in order and pay down Cuba’s debt since assuming power in 2008.

In an effort to reform Cuba’s finances, and thus please the country’s international creditors and attract new foreign investment, Castro has reduced his government’s expenditures by cutting state payrolls and subsides. His related effort to limit the amount of imports arriving in Cuba has substantially improving the island’s previously imbalanced trade situation.

Thanks in large measure to Raul Castro’s policies, Havana has been able to reach amenable debt payment terms with several of its foreign creditors -including Japan, Russia, Mexico and China- in the past four years. In many instances, creditors forgave anywhere between 70 to 90 percent of what Cuba owed to them. There’s reason to believe that Cuba will be able to secure a similarly favorable payment plan with the Paris Club in the near future.

Positive developments aside, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a private financial analysis organization, estimates that Cuba’s foreign debt currently stands at around $26 billion -a considerable sum for a small underdeveloped nation. As Cuba gains access to much-needed new sources of financing and investment abroad in the coming years, owing to its rapidly improving relations with its formerly hostile neighbor the United States, it’s government will come under increasing pressure to substantively address these obligations. Recent actions by the Castro regime display a definite willingness to do so.

The nation’s that make up the Paris Club include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. The unofficial consortium maintains a special working group on Cuba.    



Another GOP Attempt to Abort U.S.-Cuban Reengagement 

Less than a week after removing Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s infamous list of state sponsors of terror, President Obama is now facing a legislative attack on his Cuban reengagement effort from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. A new House appropriations bill, unveiled on Tuesday, prohibits federal spending on a potential U.S. embassy in Cuba and freezes funding for U.S.-Cuban diplomatic initiatives at pre-December 2014 levels -where they stood prior to the start of the president’s normalization campaign. If passed, the legislation would also restrict the ability of the Cuban government to acquire American financing for its own eventual embassy in the U.S.

“I think we have been very clear with our challenges with what’s gone on in Cuba, from human rights, from what’s happened there, and we have a difference of opinion with the administration and we have a right to express it,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader and a supporter of Tuesday’s legislation, told reporters.

The largely GOP-backed appropriations bill increases federal spending on U.S.-backed democratization initiatives in Cuba, including efforts to expand media access and reform elections on the island; it also directs the State Department to deny visas to Cuban government officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party. Proponents of the restrictive legislation argue that substantive political reform on the island should precede further diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba. Furthermore, they’ve repeatedly threatened to block any and all efforts by the White House or the State Department to improve relations with Cuba until the long-ruling authoritarian Castro regime is removed from power. Tuesday’s House appropriations bill appears to finally back up these threats.

Congressional opposition to President Obama’s Cuba policy is led primarily by Florida-based Cuban American legislators like Representative Mario Diaz-Balart and presidential-hopeful Marco Rubio in the Senate. Most of these politicians are electorally dependent on strongly anti-Castro Cuban American voters in Miami and other Cuban immigrant enclaves in the sunshine state.

An official statement from the White House in reaction to another recent piece of legislation, this one a House transportation bill, designed to undermine the president’s Cuba policy was unequivocal: “His [Obama’s] senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” The administration went on to warn that the bill in question “place[s] unnecessary restrictions on options for educational, religious, or other permitted travel” to the Caribbean island by prohibiting federal funding to commercial vessels and airplanes traveling between the U.S. and Cuba. That aspect of the legislation would effectively nullify the popular regulatory changes to U.S.-Cuba travel and trade restrictions that the administration has made in recent months. 

President Obama’s Cuban pivot has been largely well received by the public; American travel to the island nation has ballooned since the administration first announced the policy change last December. With U.S.-Cuban reengagement and diplomatic normalization now being viewed by many as a cornerstone of the president’s foreign policy legacy, it is highly unlikely that the administration will take the House’s most recent challenge sitting down. The White House’s veto threats should thus be taken seriously. 


U.S.-Cuba: Where Things Stand

U.S.-Cuban negotiations aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations between the two formerly hostile countries have seemingly stalled once again. The latest round of high-level talks, held at the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. over the course of several days last week, reportedly failed to produce significant progress, and formal mutual embassies in the American and Cuban capitals remain unopened.

Thanks to several recent breakthroughs in the diplomatic normalization process, including President Barack Obama’s decision last month to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s infamous list of state sponsors of terrorism and the Cuban government’s resulting acquisition of much-needed banking services for its U.S. diplomatic mission with the Florida-based Stonegate Bank, the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana in the very near future seemed like a viable possibility ahead of last week’s talks. That said, American and Cuban negotiators in D.C. were unable to overcome critical disagreements over the degree of freedom that U.S. diplomats operating in Cuba should be afforded.

The Cuban government argues that the journalism training courses and information technology that American personnel at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana regularly provide to Cuban dissidents is illegal, specifically violating a Vienna Conventions ban on diplomats meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. They demand an immediate end to the practice and also want to maintain existing restrictions on Cuban-based U.S. diplomats’ freedom to travel outside of Havana. Persistent discord between American and Cuban negotiators over these contentious issues effectively neutralized last week’s talks in Washington.

Speaking to the press in the wake of the most recent negotiations, Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. State Department’s top official for Latin America, stressed the need for Cuba to conform to her country’s standards of diplomatic procedure: “There are a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries…We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range. It won’t be unique. It won’t be anything that that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world.”

The authoritarian Castro regime, which strictly prohibits most types of subversive media in Cuba, is justifiably fearful that certain American diplomatic, aid and intelligence staff operating in Cuba are bent on fomenting anti-government sentiment among the population of the Caribbean island. The U.S. has a well-documented history of relentlessly attempting to oust the Castro government since it took power in 1959, and provoking a regime change or, at the very least, reform in Havana remains an avowed central goal of White House’s current diplomatic normalization and democratization efforts in Cuba.

Though the most recent round of negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba appear to have been decidedly unimpactful, representatives of both governments were optimistic about the overall progress of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic normalization in their statements to the press following the meeting. Furthermore, they refused to write off the talks as a failure. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s director of North American affairs, called the negotiations “respectful and professional,” while Jacobson described them as “highly productive.” Neither party was willing to go into detail about substance of the negotiations.




Cuba Shares Lung Cancer Vaccine With the U.S.

Thanks to the ongoing warming of relations between Cuba and the U.S., Americans may soon have access to a groundbreaking vaccine against lung cancer called Cimavax. Though Cubans have had access to the drug since 2011, it has remained unavailable to most Americans thanks to the longstanding U.S. trade embargo on the Caribbean island. A new agreement between the U.S.-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology, which was finalized during New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s diplomatic mission to Havana last month, promises to change that however.

As per the agreement, Cimavax will soon be made available to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for evaluation. The Center for Molecular Immunology, the Cuban research agency which created the vaccine, is sharing information regarding the drug’s production process, toxicity levels and past clinical trials in an effort to speed up the FDA’s assessment process. Pending the drug’s eventual approval, Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park, expects development of an American version of the vaccine to begin within the year.

Cimavax isn’t an outright lung cancer cure; it’s a preemptive treatment designed to manage the disease’s growth. By attacking a harmful protein produced by tumors, the vaccine can prolong a lung cancer patient’s life by four to six months -according to a 2008 study.

In Cuba, where lung cancer is the fourth-leading cause of death among a population attached to their internationally renowned cigars, Cimavax has been a godsend. The drug was developed by Cuban researchers over the course of 25 years as part of the Castro government’s Biological Front program -a longterm biotechnology and medical research initiative that has yielded numerous breakthroughs, including vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B. Like all healthcare services on the Caribbean nation, Cimavax is available to all Cubans free of charge and is produced by the Cuban government at an impressively low cost of $1 per shot.

Cuban medical research programs and healthcare policies have been widely lauded. “Cuba is the only country that has a healthcare system closely linked to research and development,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), explained during a trip to Havana last summer. She also particularly praised the Cuban government’s focus on securing cost effective preventative treatments for its population, stressing that Cuba’s healthcare system serves as a role model to other cash strapped developing nations. The Castro regime spends significantly less money than the U.S. government does on healthcare per individual and yet delivers comparable, and in many cases superior, outcomes, a reality which serves as an indictment of the U.S.’s dysfunctional private healthcare and health insurance industries as much as it is a vindication of Cuba’s socialized system. With a relatively high life expectancy of 78 years, Cubans continue to live longer on average than most other populations in the Americas.

Echoing Chan’s earlier praises, Johnson described the Cuban healthcare system: “They’ve had to do more with less… so they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”

Significant obstacles to further collaboration between American and Cuban medical researchers remain due to the U.S. continuing trade embargo on the island nation.


New Cuban Travel Opportunities on the Horizon 

In the latest development in the long process of diplomatic and commercial normalization between the United States and Cuba, the Obama administration is lifting a five decade ban on ferry services from Florida to Havana. By fall of this year, American tourists should be able to shuttle across the 225-mile shipping route separating southern Florida from the Cuban capital with any of four U.S. Treasury Department-approved commercial ferry services -including Havana Ferry Partners in Fort Lauderdale, Baja Ferries in Miami, United Caribbean Lines Florida in Greater Orlando and Airline Brokers Co. in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Robert Muse, a lawyer for Baja Ferries, told the Associated Press that the White House’s move, which was made public on Tuesday, was “a further indication of the seriousness of the Obama administration in normalizing relations with Cuba, we’re now going from the theoretical to the very specific.” Muse said that the new ferry services will provide American vacationers to Cuba with an affordable alternative to air travel.

Obama’s decision to reauthorize commercial ferry services to Cuba comes less than a month after the U.S. State Department removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Many in the U.S. and Cuba are hopeful that Tuesday’s news will portend the full legalization of American tourism to Cuba, which -despite some recent and significant regulatory changes- remains at least formally prohibited.

“We are approaching the project not just as a ferry operation but as a new, important economic driver for both countries, and development of a ferry system for the Caribbean,” Bruce Nierenberg, president of United Caribbean Lines, explained to Newsweek. Nierenberg was optimistic that, with the U.S. government’s blessing, his company would soon be operating ferry services to Cuba out of Miami, Tampa, Port Everglades and Key West.

Also this week, JetBlue announced that it would soon begin offering weekly round-trip flights to Cuba out of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Outside of Florida, the New York metropolitan area maintains the highest concentration of Cuban Americans in the U.S.; JetBlue’s upcoming service was likely developed with this population in mind. The new nonstop flights, which will commence on July 3, should last about three and a half hours.

The company’s announcement capped off a recent two-day trip to Cuba by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo designed to promote closer trade and travel ties between his state and the Caribbean island. “By leading one of the first state trade missions to Cuba as the United States reestablishes diplomatic relations, we placed New York State businesses at the front of the line for new prospects in Cuba, that will in turn support jobs and economic activity here at home,” the governor told the press on Tuesday.

JetBlue is the first commercial airline to seize on the opportunity presented by President Obama’s initial easing of Cuban travel restrictions earlier this year. Currently, about 600,000 Americans make their way to Cuba every year -often chartering private flights to do so. Some fly to Cuba through third-party countries like Canada. New direct and over-the-table flight’s, of the type JetBlue is planning to offer, promise to normalize and grow this irregular market, encouraging greater U.S.-Cuban tourism in the process.


New Report Tracks Political Repression in Cuba 

There were at least 338 political arrests in Cuba this April according to a report released on Monday by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure represents a significant reduction from the 610 Cuban politically motivated arrests that the Commission counted in March. Even so, the CCDHRN, which is the only organization in Cuba tracking such arrests, argues that April saw an intensification of other forms of political repression in Cuba.

The monthly “Acts of Political Repression” report cited increased instances of Cuban law enforcement employing physical aggression, verbal intimidation, vandalism and so-called “shows of rejection” -when police and state security forces pose as regular citizens in plain cloths and stage counter-protests in opposition to anti-government demonstrations- against dissidents last month as evidence of a government crackdown on political opposition.

Throughout April, one dissident organization in particular, the Ladies in White, were the victims of chronic police harassment during their weekly rallies. The Ladies in White gathered every Sunday last month and held public protest “masses,” where the group distributed images of political prisoners to onlookers and decried the Castro regime’s human rights violations. Large assemblies of this kind are strictly prohibited under Cuban law and are regularly broken up by the government.

During the most recent of these “masses,” in Havana on May 3, 51 Ladies in White and 38 other activists were detained by the authorities for six hours. The director of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, reported that activists were denied food and water during their detainment on Sunday and that many were “brutally beaten.”

“It’s further proof of the Cuban government’s intolerance towards people who think differently,” Soler told the press.

The CCDHRN is also calling for an investigation into the recent killing of Yunieski Martinez in the Matanzas province of Cuba. The Commission alleges that the unarmed 30 year-old, who was shot in the back, may have been murdered by a state security official affiliated with the Interior Ministry.

April’s CCDHRN report went on to criticize the Cuban government’s tone at the recent Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama, arguing that President Raul Castro’s rhetoric during his remarks at the conference, which included a defiant denunciation of the United State’s hemispheric influence, represented a refusal to “accept international standards on issues of civil, political, and labor rights, as well as other fundamental rights.”

Although the Cuban government regularly participates in several regional summits, this year marked the first time that Cuba was invited to the Summit of the Americas -a conference historically dominated by the U.S. Cuba’s groundbreaking inclusion at the multilateral meeting last month is likely a result of the diplomatic normalization efforts publicly initiated by Havana and Washington last December.

Soler remains skeptical that the Castro regime’s current rapprochement with the American government will substantively improve the human rights situation in Cuba. She claims that President Castro’s new policy with respect to the U.S. -far from reflecting a genuine intent to implement political reforms in Cuba- is solely motivated by the need to access “credit with powerful countries to keep himself in power, due to the fact that Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, can no longer comply with the support that former president Hugo Chávez offered Cuba.” 


House GOP Attempts to Abort U.S.-Cuba Normalization 

Congressional opponents of President Obama’s new Cuba policy have finally initiated a legislative effort to counteract the recent thaw in relations between America and Cuba. On Tuesday, a contingent of Republican hardliners in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a provision into an upcoming House Department of Transportation appropriations bill that prohibits government spending on the promotion of travel from the U.S. to Cuba.

The measure specifically bars the American government from using public funds to facilitate any air transportation from the U.S. to Cuba that would land on or pass through property confiscated by the Cuban government. In addition, the provision restricts the ability of the U.S. government to issue operating certificates and licenses to any maritime vessels that have recently docked within seven miles of property appropriated by the Castro regime. If ultimately enacted, these limitations would severely limit any regular travel and trade between the U.S. and Cuba.

“U.S. law prohibits tourism in Cuba, and U.S. law also allows for those whose properties were confiscated by the Castro regime to sue those who use, or benefit from using, those confiscated properties,” Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a vocal critic of President Obama’s efforts to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, explained in an attempt to justify the new regulations that he personally introduced into the transportation bill. “Despite these clear provisions in U.S. law, the Obama administration has expanded travel to Cuba and turned a blind eye to the property claims of Americans.”

Prior to the 1959 Cuban revolution that toppled the government of the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, 85 percent of Cuba’s arable land was owned by American multinationals and investors -holdings that would be worth $2.8 billion today. After seizing power, Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government unveiled a land reform program that would’ve redistributed that land among Cuba’s landless peasants. The plan promised to monetarily compensate the American parties involved for their losses. When the Eisenhower administration balked at this initiative, severing the U.S.’s commercial ties with Cuba and launching a long-term covert campaign to overthrow the new Cuban government in the months after the revolution, Castro abandoned the reform plan and simply confiscated and nationalized the properties in question. The Castro regime also seized the private businesses of countless native Cubans in the wake of the revolution.

The poison pill that Republican lawmakers attached to the House transportation bill on Tuesday is expected to face stiff opposition from congressional supporters of President Obama’s new policy of Cuban détente. If the bill is passed as is however, the president may be compelled to step in and utilize his veto power to block the legislation. This would be controversial as the the larger transportation bill in question is considered urgent must-pass legislation by many. Still, it’s unlikely that the president will sit back silently while a clique of hardliners in the House attempt to effectively nullify several of the changes his administration has made to U.S.-Cuba travel and trade regulations since December. Certainly any future efforts at normalization would be sabotaged if the new restrictive measures were allowed to be implemented.                


LGBT Singing Group to Travel to Cuba

Several dozen members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. will be traveling to Cuba this summer for a week of performances in the Havana area. The tour was coordinated with the help of the Youth for Understanding organization, an international group that promotes cultural and educational trips to Cuba, and is intended to highlight LGBT issues on the Caribbean nation. The deputation is scheduled to arrive in Cuba on July 10 and will leave eight days later, after five concerts.

“We have an incredible opportunity to help make a difference in the perception of the U.S. and of LGBTQ people with this historic visit,” Chase Maggiano, executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, said in a public statement. “We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to help advance the dialogue by serving as cultural ambassadors.”

The Cuban government has an unfortunate track record when it comes to LGBT rights. Former president Fidel Castro, the leader of the revolution that ousted Fulgencio Batista and installed Cuba’s current regime, cracked down on gay Cubans after taking power in 1959, sending many to forced labor camps throughout the 1960s and 70s. Homosexuality was banned and cruelly punished in Castro’s Cuba until 1979, and, although the situation for LGBT Cubans has significantly improved since then, human rights activists argue that homophobia is still prevalent in the highly Catholic island nation.

More recently, the Cuban government has begun taking steps to improve the status of LGBT Cubans. Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of the current Cuban President Raul Castro and director of the National Center for Sexual Education, has emerged as a vocal leader of Cuba’s growing LGBT rights movement. She is expected to meet with members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington at some point during their trip to Cuba in July. The American group will also likely perform for a Cuban dance troupe composed of the children of LGBT parents during the tour.

“Cuba is cracking open the door to LGBT equality and we’re excited to be on the frontlines of that,” Maggiano explained, acknowledging the opportunity presented by changing social attitudes in Cuba.

The use of choral music as a vehicle for advancing gay rights in the U.S. was first popularized in San Francisco in the 1970s. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington was a direct result of this movement, it’s first performance taking place in 1981. Members of the Rock Creek Singers and Potomac Fever, two of the D.C.-based choral organization’s smaller ensemble groups, will provide the members of this summer’s musical delegation to Cuba.

In February, Juana Mora Cedeño, a prominent Cuban LGBT rights advocate and critic of the Castro regime, met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other American officials during a congressional trip to Cuba. American representatives of the progressive Metropolitan Community Church plan to travel to Cuba next week and meet with LGBT religious leaders there. July’s visit from Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington promises to build on these earlier trips.



Unprecedented Opposition Candidates Defeated in Cuban Elections

For the first time in decades, two candidates unaffiliated with,  and highly critical of, the Cuban government and the long-ruling Cuban Communist Party were able to run in Cuba’s local elections on Sunday. Though both dissidents ultimately conceded defeat after failing to muster enough votes against their individual opponents, the fact that they were able run in the first place is relatively groundbreaking.

The two candidates -Hildebrando Chaviano, a 65-year-old lawyer and independent journalist, and Yuniel Lopez, a 26-year-old member of the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party (an outlawed Cuban political party)- sought seats on their respective municipal assemblies, which are responsible for local issues like water supplies, street repairs and insect fumigation. Cuba’s municipal assemblies nominate half of the candidates for her provincial assemblies, which, in turn, choose half of the candidates for Cuban National Assembly. The National Assembly elects Cuba’s ruling Council of State, and this body chooses Cuba’s president.

Had he been elected, Chaviano would have would have represented the Havana-based Plaza de la Revolución municipality; Lopez was running in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality in south-central Havana. Both men had to be selected by a show of hands during official neighborhood meetings before being authorized to run in Sunday’s municipal elections. 

Since the 1959 revolution that swept the Castro family into power, Cuba has been governed by the the Cuban Communist Party in a one-party political system. Generally speaking, political opposition to the government is suppressed there; Cuban law bans campaigning and the participation of political parties in elections. To guarantee perpetual Communist Party dominance, a government electoral commission handpicks half of the candidates in municipal and provincial level elections. 

The only information about candidates that Cuban voters are permitted is a short, government-written biography, along with a small photo. Chaviano and Lopez’s pre-election biographies described them as “counterrevolutionaries” and linked them with foreign anti-government groups.

In the weeks leading up to Sunday’s elections and their eventual defeats, Chaviano and Lopez appeared optimistic about their electoral prospects.

“Some people say that there is fear in Cuba, and I say that people have lost their fear,” Lopez proclaimed.

“No-one from the government was expecting us to be nominated and even less that we would become candidates,” Chaviano explained, acknowledging the uniqueness of his and Lopez’s positions. “We have to take advantage of the moment.”

According to information from Cuban electoral authorities, Chaviano ultimately received 138 votes during Sunday’s elections, a figure the dissident subsequently described as a “significant amount.” Chaviano said that the elections appeared to have been carried out fairly.

The younger Lopez was considerably less conciliatory in the wake of his own loss, pointing to irregularities at his municipality’s polling stations and a “campaign against him,” including voter intimidation, as the primary reasons for his defeat. 

Sunday’s elections saw about eight million Cuban voters turnout at the polls. 27,379 candidates stood for 12,589 municipal posts across Cuba. For those constituencies where no candidate was able to garner at least 50 percent of the vote, another round of elections will be held on April 26.

Current Cuban president Raul Castro, the 83-year-old ex-revolutionary and brother of former president Fidel Castro, has vowed to reform the Cuban political system.

Cuba Removed From U.S.’s State Sponsors of Terror List

Cuba will finally be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism according to statements by White House officials on Tuesday. The announcement comes on the heels of a historic face-to-face meeting between American President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro in Panama over the weekend during the Summit of the Americas -a multilateral regional conference attended by representatives from the Cuban government for the first time this year.

Cuban officials have consistently cited the U.S. government’s continued designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism as a major obstacle to the preservation of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement so recently publicly initiated by President Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. The White House’s pronouncement today promises to reignite this, seemingly stalled, process of diplomatic reengagement between the two formerly hostile governments and paves the way for the long-awaited opening of formal embassies in Washington and Havana.

More broadly, the State Department’s stubborn and persistent inclusion of Cuba on its infamous list has become something of a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States, uniting Latin and South American governments in opposition to what many see as a politically-motivated, outdated policy of U.S. imperial hostility toward the Caribbean nation. Cuba’s removal from the list can only serve to improve relations between the U.S. and its neighbors to the south.

“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” White House press secretary Josh Ernest explained to the media.

Cuba’s material and moral support to anti-colonial, nationalist and/or leftist third world insurgent groups first landed it on the American government’s state sponsors of terrorism list in 1982. Today, only Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba remain on the State Department’s list. 

A 2013 State Department report found “no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups” in recent years, a conclusion supported by public statements made by former Cuban president Fidel Castro in 1992 renouncing Cuban support for insurgents abroad. Since a government needs to have engaged in terrorist activity in the past six months to be included among the State Department’s designated state sponsors of terror, Cuba’s removal from the list is only natural. 

Still, there will be a 45-day review period before Cuba is officially stricken from the list, during which time opponents of the move, and of President Obama’s Cuba policy generally, in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives could abort Cuba’s prospective re-designation with a joint resolution. Congressional opposition to closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba is bipartisan, but is especially strong among segments of the Republican Party. Earlier today, one of the more vocal critics, Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, decried the White House’s decision in public statement. She argued that Cuba’s removal from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror “would be nothing short of a miscarriage of justice borne out of political motivations not rooted in reality.”

Another hardliner, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, formally announced his 2016 presidential bid yesterday.