May 1, 2013 5:00 pm

Cuba won’t be removed from list of state sponsors of terrorism

Millions of Cubans take part in May Day celebrations even as the US State Department has announced it will keep Cuba on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

HAVANA, Cuba – A State Department spokesman said Wednesday that Washington has no plans to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.

The decision is sure to ruffle feathers in Havana, which vehemently denies any links to terrorism. Cuba’s government contends its inclusion on the list is a political vendetta by a U.S. government that has kept an economic embargo on the Communist-run island for 51 years.

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State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington “has no current plans to remove Cuba” from the list, which is included in the department’s annual report on terrorism.

The report was supposed to have been released Tuesday, but has been delayed. Officials say it is likely to come out later in May.

Wednesday was a holiday in Cuba and there was no immediate comment from the government.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida, praised the decision to keep Cuba on the list. It “reaffirms that the Castro regime is, and has always been, a supporter and facilitator of terrorism,” she said.

She criticized the administration for not putting North Korea back on the list. The reclusive Asian country was taken off in 2008 amid negotiations over nuclear disarmament that ultimately failed.

Cuba is ostensibly included on the list because it has harboured Colombian rebels and Basque militants as well as some aging members of American militant groups from the 1960s and ’70s.

Many Cuba watchers had speculated the time might be ripe for Cuba to get off the list, in large part because the Cuban government is now hosting peace talks between Colombian rebels and that country’s government, while the Basque militants have announced a permanent cease-fire.

Neither the Colombian nor Spanish governments has criticized Cuba’s role in their conflicts in recent years, and both countries routinely vote against U.S. economic sanctions on the island during a yearly vote at the United Nations.

One of the requirements for getting off the list is that countries publicly renounce terrorism. Cuba did that in April when it sent its condolences both to the American people and the U.S. government over the bombings at the Boston marathon.

Cuba said in its message that it “rejects and condemns unequivocally all acts of terrorism, in any place, under any circumstance, and with whatever motivation.”

But Ventrell said the annual report is never used to remove or add countries from the state sponsors list. Such decisions can be made at any time during the year, he said, but added that there are no plans to alter Cuba’s status in the near future.

© The Associated Press, 2013

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