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Cuba Dares Biden to Look Away – Mary Anastasia O’Grady / WSJ

Hosting Iran’s top diplomat makes a mockery of the U.S. policy of ‘engagement

Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, meets with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 4.(Yander Zamora/Shutterstock)

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

While much of Washington was searching American skies for a Chinese surveillance balloon on the morning of Feb. 4, Havana was preparing for the arrival of Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Three days later, as President Biden left the State of the Union, he was caught on a hot mic calling out to New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez with some urgency: “Bob, I gotta talk to you about Cuba. I’m serious.”

It’s a pretty good guess that tightening U.S. screws on Cuba’s military dictatorship isn’t the pressing topic on Mr. Biden’s mind. The administration has been signaling for months that it wants to relieve sanctions pressure on the regime, and it’s no secret that Mr. Menendez, a national-security hawk, doesn’t agree.

When Mr. Amir-Abdollahian touched down in Cuba, he was finishing up a tour of Latin America, during which he also visited Managua and Caracas. The Islamic Republic of Iran tweeted that it planned to discuss “issues of mutual interest” with Cuba. There are many. Havana and Tehran are anti-American dictatorships allied with Russia, China, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Both are on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism—along with Syria and North Korea.

Still, the Iranian visit is curious. With its economy in shambles and its currency worthless, Cuba is trying to reinvent itself as a normal country. Getting off the U.S. terror list would be a big step in that direction and schmoozing publicly with the mullahs seems an unnecessary U.S. irritant.

Here’s why it happened anyway: Over the past two years Customs and Border Protection has recorded more than 300,000 encounters with Cuban migrants, a crisis unleashed by the dictatorship. Because Mr. Biden has been helpless to contain the onslaught, Havana believes it now has the leverage in the bilateral relationship. It expects concessions and in the meantime can meet with whomever it pleases.

President Trump tightened sanctions, and in 2021 he put Cuba back on the terror list, citing its support for Colombian rebels who had bombed a Bogotá police academy in 2019, killing 22.

Mr. Biden said during the 2020 presidential campaign that if elected he would return to the Obama Cuba policy of engagement—providing Cuba kept “the commitments they said they would make.” He didn’t mention that there is no public record of Havana having made commitments.

A regime crackdown on unprecedented islandwide protests in July 2021 delayed Mr. Biden’s promised Cuba thaw—but didn’t derail it. In May 2022 the U.S. eased sanctions on remittances and on American travel, including to resort destinations.

A month later the State Department reported that 550 protesters—including 20 arrested as minors—had received sentences totaling more than 4,000 years. Notably severe punishment was meted out to protesters from neighborhoods with “significant Afro-Cuban populations” to “make examples” of them.

Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to care. In January he sent a delegation to the island for a “dialogue” on international law-enforcement matters, as a way of “increasing cooperation.” It’s not clear what Sherlock Biden expects to discover while crime fighting with a totalitarian regime designated by the State Department as a human trafficker. Havana is also, undoubtedly, a major drug trafficker.

Mr. Biden’s law-and-order fig leaf for Cuba isn’t fooling anyone. Many Latin countries have been upended with guidance from the Cuba-Iran nexus. Peru is the latest to explode, but security experts have been chronicling the effort to infiltrate and destroy its democracy for more than a decade.

In March 2015, political and security analyst Dardo López-Dolz, a former Peruvian vice minister of the interior, laid out the threat before a U.S. House subcommittee. He said Iran and Hezbollah came to his attention in 2011, when “a connection was forming between the Islamic Republic and other activist movements in Peru controlled by Havana, Caracas and La Paz.” The Cuban and Venezuelan “political/social organizations aimed at subverting and weakening our democratic institutions and spreading socialist ideology,” he said, had been operating in Peru “since at least 2005.”

Mr. López-Dolz warned of “a dangerous convergence taking place in Peru between Iranian and Hezbollah cells, the governments of Cuba and Venezuela,” and various other groups including the Shining Path, “which jointly direct the so-called Fronts for the Defense of the Environment.”

He also noted “Iranian and Hezbollah operatives in Apurímac,” who were engaging in recruitment and proselytizing for their cause. It can hardly be a coincidence that much of the recent political violence and terrorism aimed at toppling Peru’s democracy is centered in this mineral-rich region, which Mr. López-Dolz also described as “heavily involved in cocaine production.”

Mr. López-Dolz’s full testimony is worth reading to gain a fuller understanding of the Cuban-Iranian threat in the region. And to see that there is no way to justify taking Havana off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.


Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis­-based Liberty Fund. Energiesnet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on January 29, 2022. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

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