How will financial ties with Cuba change now that it’s off the terrorism
May 30, 2015 at 6:18 PM EDT
The State Department on Friday officially lifted its designation of Cuba
as a state sponsor of terrorism, in one of the many recent steps by the
Obama administration to reestablish diplomatic ties between Cuba and the
U.S. Carla Robbins of the Council on Foreign Relations joins Hari
Sreenivasan to discuss the implications.
HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Yesterday, the State
Department officially lifted its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor
It’s one of the many recent steps by the Obama administration to
re-establish diplomatic ties between the island nation and the United
Here to talk about the implications of that move is Carla Robbins, an
adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
So, first of all, this was on the list since the early 80s. What put
them on this list of state-sponsored terror in the first place?
CARLA ROBBINS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Exporting revolution, cozy
relations with the FARC in Colombia, cozy relations with the Basque
terrorists ETA and we didn’t like them.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. And then, now, if they’re off this list, what
does it mean?
CARLA ROBBINS: It means more than anything else, that U.S. banks can
have relations with Cuban banks, which will make it much easier to
follow through on the easing of financial relations that Obama is
promoting, and the Cubans said it was the biggest precondition for
reestablishing direct diplomatic relations and opening the embassies.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In a practical matter, this means that if a tourist is
visiting Cuba, their ATM cards or credit cards will work.
CARLA ROBBINS: That’s the idea. Right now, MasterCard is there. I
believe I think American Express is there. But you can’t — there’s no
American bank that can do it because of fear that the Treasury
Department will punish you.
You know, these terrorism lists, particularly since 9/11 — I mean, U.S.
banks have been paying very, very high penalties for it. So, now, you’ll
be able to do that.
More than anything else, while the embargo is still in place and will
remain in place for a very long time, I suspect, you can do business
with private businesses in Cuba, a variety of other trade. We can sell
We can sell agriculture. We have been able to do that for quite a while.
But the Cubans had to pay before. They had to send the money here. They
couldn’t do it through an American bank. It was a very complicated process.
Now, they’re going to be able to clear checks in Cuba and that’s a big
deal, not an enormous boon. There’s not going to be a huge, you know,
gold rush here, but it’s going to make it easier to do financial
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you pointed out that distinction that this still
does not mean that the embargo is lifted. That is a much bigger scenario
and that takes congressional approval.
CARLA ROBBINS: The embargo was an executive order since Kennedy, all the
way through to Clinton. It was written into law during the Clinton
Not at the behest of the White House, the Republicans pushed it. And so,
now, Congress has to agree to do it.
And what’s really interesting — you know, I was up on the Hill and I was
surprised to see nobody on the Hill was going to make a big fight about
this lifting of the terrorism list. They’re not going to fight Obama on
all these other things.
On the other hand, nobody is going to push very hard to lift the
embargo. This is a very long process.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. And there are still significant disagreements
that the two countries have. I mean, the secretary of state said that
yesterday. There are also members of Congress that said that.
CARLA ROBBINS: Having diplomatic relations doesn’t mean that we love
them. And, ultimately, the U.S. and Cuba have very different goals for
Obama has been clear — his goal here, have closer contact, is to promote
democratic change in Cuba. The Cubans’ goal for this is to get enough,
you know, economic bailout so that they can maintain their repressive
society for a little big longer.
I think, ultimately — you know, the Castro brothers are very old —
ultimately, Cuba is going to move toward some sort of reforms and I
think as — also as President Obama said, 50 years of this policy and it
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, when these two countries start to establish
embassies officially in each other’s countries, what are the kinds of
steps that we will see towards this diplomatic normalization?
CARLA ROBBINS: Right. I think the biggest issue right now — and we don’t
know how soon the opening could come, the official opening — I find it
to be probably sooner rather than later — the biggest question I think
is what they’ve been going back and forth is the Cubans keep saying, we
don’t want you to be using the embassy to continue to do what you’ve
been doing — which is giving — training journalists and meeting with
And the Americans keep saying, “What are you talking about? We want to
I hope the Obama administration doesn’t give up too much on that.
Although they have been signaling that in other authoritarian societies,
there are restrictions and they will place restrictions on the Cubans
themselves. This not going to be a warm and cuddly relationship for a
very long time, I suspect.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Carla Robbins, thanks so much.
CARLA ROBBINS: Thanks so much.
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