Robert Menendez sees Cuba still harboring terrorists, restricting freedom
The Obama Administration is about to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, but a New Jersey Democrat says the move is premature, as Cuba is harboring terrorists right now.
"Today, only days before the Administration’s recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism goes into effect, known terrorists continue to enjoy safe haven in Cuba," US Sen. Robert Menendez charged. "Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, and Charles Hill, wanted for killing a New Mexico State trooper and hijacking a U.S. civilian plane, are both living in Cuba, protected by the regime."
Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants, made the charge during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday on “U.S. Cuba Relations—The Way Forward.” Menendez, a member of the committee, was its chairman in the 113th Congress.
President Barack Obama notified Congress in April that he intended to take Cuba off the list of nations that sponsor international terrorism. The decision will go into effect next week as the 45-day review period comes to an end.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the US and Cuba are "closer than ever to reaching an agreement to fully restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies."
"Negotiators met Thursday in Washington for another round of talks to iron out remaining details and discuss possible date," the newspaper said.
But Menendez said he is concerned that the Administration "continues to entertain unilateral concessions without—in return—getting agreement on fundamental issues that are in our national interest."
In addition, Menendez said he has not seen "any movement toward greater freedom for the Cuban people."
"I have not seen movement toward greater tolerance, democracy, or the rule of law," he said, noting that it was the 113th anniversary of Cuban Independence Day but that that people are, ironically, living under "the totalitarian reign of the Castro regime." He said that human rights abuses "continue unabated with more than 1,600 cases of arbitrary political arrests this year."
The Times quoted an anonymous State Department official who said, “We have certain requirements that we need met, so we just have to see whether we can get there in this round of talks." He did not elaborate or indicate whether those requirements were those that concern Menendez. But the Times said that Washington has yet to receive a commitment that US diplomats "would be able to travel freely on the island and speak to whomever they please, something Cuba generally regards as stirring up dissent. And so far, Cuba has not guaranteed that shipments to the American compound would not be tampered with, and that people visiting the United States Embassy would not face harassment from police officers guarding it."
Pope Francis, who has been credited for helping to bring about the US-Cuba rapprochement, will visit the island nation in September, on his way to the United States.