Cuba’s Terror Designation – Major Shift or Symbolic Step?

Following the December, 2014 announcement of a major U.S. policy shift towards Cuba, President Obama has formally submitted to Congress the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) designation.

Cuba was listed on the SST roster in 1982 pursuant to three laws:

  1. Section 6 (j) of the Export Administration Act;
  2. Section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act; and
  3. Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Once designated, a country remains on the list until the designation is rescinded. The Administration’s review presented to Congress determined that Cuba had not engaged in terrorist activity in the past six months and relied on assurances that Cuba will not support terrorism in the future. Following a 45-day review period, Cuba will be removed from the SST list unless blocked by a joint resolution of Congress.

Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and South Yemen have all had their previous designations rescinded in this manner, though there has been some movement in Congress to have North Korea re-designated on the SST list. This also follows the March announcement by the Treasury Department that 59 individuals and entities would be removed from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list under the Kingpin Act. This list, administered by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), designates individuals and companies that are subject to asset blocks and prohibitions from dealings with U.S. persons.

Most importantly, while this does represent another step towards increasing liberalization in U.S. policy towards the island nation, it does not affect the main embargo currently in place. Further action by the relevant agencies including OFAC and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will be needed to alter the current status of sanctions and export control restrictions.

For more on this topic, see related articles by yours truly here and fellow Grrl Andrea M. Ewart here as well as agency guidance from the Treasury Department’s FAQ on Cuba.


The Gender Agenda in Trade

In many developing countries, the informal economy is at least as important as that economy which can be more easily captured in a country’s GDP measurements. For a number of families in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean,

Women selling in market(IITA Image Library)

Women selling in market
(IITA Image Library)

the informal sector is what has allowed them to survive, despite a world economic crisis and sinking national economies.

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), a global action/research/policy network conducting research on this sector has defined the informal economy broadly to include the range of activities, enterprises and workers that are not regulated or protected by the state. This definition encompasses the vendors of products and services who conduct their business on busy city streets as well as producers and service providers who work from their homes.

In the developing world, the overwhelming majority of these informal workers are women. Sixty percent or more of women workers in the developing world are in the non-agricultural informal sector, reports WIEGO. Of these, a significant subset is involved in cross-border trade. The gender agenda in trade is incomplete without policies and strategies that address this group of women.

Cross-Border Traders

In the Caribbean, informal traders — known as “hucksters” in Dominica or traffickers in St. Vincent — ply an inter-island route on boats carrying produce to other islands. “Higglers” in Jamaica are both the backbone of the island’s agricultural marketing system as well as the “informal commercial importers” of cheap products from all over the world. While years ago they could be seen on flights between Aruba, Miami, or Panama, today’s favored source is China.

Data on cross-border informal traders is understandably hard to come by, but here are some compelling statistics:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of the self-employed women working outside of the agricultural sector were involved in some aspect of cross-border trade (ILO, 2004)
  • The average value of informal cross-border trade in the 15 countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was US$ 17.6 billion per year and 70% of informal cross-border traders are women.
  • In West and Central Africa, women informal cross border traders “employ” 1.2 people in their home businesses.


These women traders frequently operate in the shadows with inadequate recognition and support from the formal economy.

A USAID summary Women in Cross-Border Agricultural Trade highlights the discrimination that women face in the border process:

  • Women in India wait 37% longer than men to see the same customs official.
  • In East Africa, women cross-border traders are forced to pay larger bribes than their male counterparts or to provide sexual favors to border officials who detain the trader or confiscate her goods.
  • In Central Africa, customs officials commonly perceive those who trade in small quantities as “smugglers,” even when they pay the appropriate duties.

The very informality of their operations is also a challenge: Continue reading