The Trump administration on Monday announced it was returning Cuba to the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that could complicate any efforts by the incoming Biden administration to revive Obama-era detente with Havana.
Just nine days before Republican President Donald Trump leaves office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Cuba was being blacklisted for “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism” by harbouring US fugitives as well as Colombian rebel leaders.
Mr Pompeo also cited Communist-ruled Cuba's security support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which he said had allowed the socialist leader to create “a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela".
“With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of US justice,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement.
Returning Cuba to the list is a further rollback of the detente that Democratic former President Barack Obama orchestrated between the old Cold War foes. Mr Obama's decision to formally remove Cuba from the terrorism list in 2015 was an important step toward restoring diplomatic ties that year.
The terrorism list decision followed months of legal review, with some administration experts questioning whether it was justified, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It would require further lengthy legal deliberations for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden to reverse the designation.
Mr Trump has clamped down on Cuba since coming to power in 2017, tightening restrictions on US travel and remittances to Cuba, and imposing sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to the island.
Mr Trump's hard-line Cuba policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in South Florida, helping him win the state in November though he lost the election to Mr Biden, who was Mr Obama's vice president.
Mr Biden said during the election campaign he would promptly reverse Mr Trump policies on Cuba that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights”.
But Mr Trump's move could make it more difficult for Mr Biden to resume rapprochement when he takes office. Syria, Iran and North Korea are other countries on the list.