U.S.-Cuba ties impacted


Here_s why: Cuba, which is playing a key mediation role in Colombia_s peace talks, was kept on the U.S. State D...


Here_s why: Cuba, which is playing a key mediation role in Colombia_s peace talks, was kept on the U.S. State Department_s annual black list of _sponsors of terrorism_ earlier this year _ alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria _ mainly because it gives safe haven to FARC rebels and members of the Basque separatist group ETA.

But if Colombia signs a peace treaty with the FARC and the Colombian rebels become a legitimate political party, it will be much harder for the U.S. State Department to justify keeping Cuba on the terrorism list, critics of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba _ Democrats and Republicans _ say. You cannot be a sponsor of terrorism if the people you are accused of harboring are no longer terrorists, they argue.

_It would considerably weaken the argument for keeping Cuba on the list, although some hard-liners would resist taking Cuba off the list because they would see it as a first move toward softening U.S. policy toward Cuba,_ says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington D.C. think tank.

Although removing Cuba from the terrorism list _ like the State Department did with North Korea in 2008 or with Libya in 2006 _ would not automatically result in lifting U.S. sanctions on the island, the move would reduce support for the embargo in the U.S. Congress, and pave the way for an improvement in U.S.-Cuban ties, U.S. congressional and academic analysts say.

Asked about it, a senior administration said the two issues are _absolutely not connected._

In addition, a possible success of the Colombia-FARC peace talks would have a big impact on Venezuela_s image abroad. If Colombia and the FARC rebels sign a peace treaty, it would not only boost Santos_ international image as a peace maker, but would also strengthen Venezuelan President Hugo Ch__vez_s standing in the region.

Venezuela and Norway have helped prepare the ground for the upcoming peace talks, which started with secret talks in Cuba in February.

The Colombia-FARC talks are scheduled to start Oct. 8 _ a day after Venezuela_s elections _ in Oslo, Norway, and continue in Cuba.

Another scenario making the rounds among Venezuela watchers at the U.S. Congress is that, if Ch__vez loses the Venezuelan elections and there is a civil war in that country, as Ch__vez himself speculated earlier this week, the Venezuelan president could enlist thousands of demobilized FARC rebels already on the Colombian-Venezuelan border to create an armed resistance movement in Venezuela.

_Colombian terrorist groups could be tempted to join Ch__vez in an armed resistance movement if the opposition candidate wins,_ says Carl Meacham, a senior Republican staffer on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. _Make no mistake: Ch__vez and his followers will not go quietly._

While the Obama administration has welcomed Colombia_s latest effort to end its armed conflict without commenting on whether it would have international implications, some key Republicans in the U.S. Congress have strongly criticized it.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, has called the Colombian peace talks _disturbing,_ among other things because Cuba_s _Castro regime, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism and long-time supporter of the FARC, has been given a leadership role in ongoing discussions with FARC operatives._

She added, _As we look ahead, we must make it clear that U.S. foreign policy toward the FARC, the Cuban dictatorship and the hemisphere must be based on U.S. interests and not be dependent on any negotiation._

My opinion: It_s too soon to know whether Santos_ negotiations with the FARC will succeed, or whether they will collapse like so many others in the past. (We should know that soon: Santos has said that the process will not take years, but _months._)

But if they succeed, they are bound to have ripple effects across the hemisphere. Latin America_s political map could look very different by this time next year.

BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER

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