Weekend Reading: Terrorism, Papal Visit and The Economist's Special Report on Cuba

Looking back on the past year in which change has finally and visibly come to the island of Cuba, and on the cusp of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba, the second papal visit to the island in 15 years, it seems fitting to highlight for readers a few items that offer crucial, and even detailed perspective on where Cuba has been, is going, and how the United States continues to fumble as if blindfolded on Cuba.  This week's issue of The Economist includes a special 10-page report (online here) that charts how change finally, if haltingly, came to Cuba this year, where it falls short and why, and what Cuba could look like in 2015.  The best thing about this special report is that a Cuba neophyte can pick up this issue and having read the complete article, actually come out reasonably informed about Cuba, its leaders, its people's daily struggles, the political heft and the changing course of Cuban exiles and emigrants in America, and what to make of an embargo that few Americans understand is still firmly in place after fifty years - let alone why.

For a taste of the "Wait, what?" moment that comes with the realization that the Cold War didn't actually end between the United States and Cuba when it ended everywhere else, Brigadier General John Adams (Ret.) and David Jones, writing in The Hill this week, urge the State Department to "get real" on keeping Cuba on its state sponsors of terrorism list. 

"Today, four countries are on the list: Iran, Syria, Sudan and … Cuba. Seriously, Cuba?  Countries not on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list include: Yemen, Lebanon, Pakistan, North Korea (the Department of State removed North Korea from the list in 2008) and Libya (removed from the list in 2006). . . "

Point by point, Adams and Jones poke huge holes in the State Department's case for keeping Cuba on the list , though, they hardly need to make their case when this is what the State Department's evidence looks like:

The 2008 U.S. State Country Report on Terrorism stated that Cuba “no longer actively supports armed struggles in Latin America and other parts of the world.” The same report further states, “The United States has no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba.”

The 2009 report stated: “There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009.” The 2010 State Department report stated: “The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates.”

So, if Cuba doesn't appear to finance, plot or even support terrorism, surely there is some reason why they're on the list?  Rather than give that away (I'm sure The Hill would appreciate me not excerpting the entire piece), you can it read here.

Finally, in addition to recommending my fellow THN blogger Arturo Lopez-Levy's take on the upcoming papal visit to Cuba, I'll also recommend this excellent post at The Cuban Triangle - each piece examines the possible motives behind the trip, addresses critcisms of the trip and of Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and helps set realistic expectations of what this all means for Cubans going forward.  As Peters sums up:

"[Pope Benedict's] visit will surely be more than pastoral.  One can imagine that he will seek greater space for Catholic religious or charitable activity, and make some requests of a humanitarian nature.
 
But Benedict is not likely to “open a new chapter in the history of Cuba,” as Lech Walesa predicted dramatically last week.  His embrace will be a vote of confidence in Cardinal Ortega and the Cuban church, and as the Vatican’s head of state he will applaud improved church-state relations in Havana.  But he will leave it to the Cubans to make their own history."