Cuba Off Terrorism List, Germany and U.S. Drones, War in Yemen

Originally published at the Fordham Observer‘s “Going Global” column.

U.S to Remove Cuba From Terror Sponsors List

In his continued effort to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama has made an official recommendation to Congress that Cuba be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The move will leave only Iran, Sudan and Syria on the list. Cuba was placed on the list in 1982 when its government was supporting liberation struggles across the region. It will not be officially removed from the list until after a 45-day review period, during which Congress could form a joint resolution to block its removal. The Cuban government called Obama’s move “just” and said it should never have been on the listThe U.S. trade embargo with Cuba remains in effect. “President Obama has acknowledged publicly and with actions something that has been obvious for a very long time: US policy towards Cuba has been frozen for way too many years and hasn’t done a thing to achieve its stated goals. It’s time to try a more enlightened approach,” Hector Lindo-Fuentes, associate chair and professor of history, said.

Germany is heart of U.S. drone program

A top-secret document obtained by the news website, The Intercept, confirms that the U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany, is the main technology center for America’s drone program. Drone operators in the American Southwest use Ramstein as a satellite relay station to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other targeted countries. Although Ramstein’s role in the drone program has been downplayed, an unidentified source told The Intercept, “Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now.” A German court has agreed to hear a case brought by a relative of two Yemeni victims of a U.S. drone strike for Germany’s role in the drone program. This is globally unprecedented as no court anywhere, including in the U.S., has ever agreed to grant standing to a relative of a drone strike victim. “Perhaps the court would be willing to issue an injunction prohibiting the use of Ramstein for its role in drone strikes if it finds this role essential,” Thomas H. Lee, Leitner Family professor of International Law, said. “All of this just adds to the controversies about the drone program – the United States has still not officially recognized civilian deaths as collateral damage.”

War in Yemen

Over 1,000 people have died in the fighting in Yemen since late March. With intelligence and logistical support from the United States, Saudi Arabia and nine regional allies began bombing Houthis on March 25. The Houthis, a Shiite minority, took over the capital Sana’a in January and forced the resignation of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has since fled to Saudi Arabia. President Obama has long defended the “successful” counterterrorism model with the Yemeni government in its fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has begun to gain control of more territory during the power vacuum created by the Houthis’ takeover and the Saudi Arabian military campaign. “No outside power can resolve what is, at heart, a struggle for national identity in a country seriously divided along religious, tribal, and ideological lines […] You can’t bomb a country into the 21st century nor rearrange its political architecture through external interference,” John P. Entelis, professor and chair of Political Science and director of Middle East Studies, said.

Nigerian Election, Palestine Joins ICC, Sanctions on Venezuela

Originally published at the Fordham Observer‘s “Going Global” column.

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Nigerian Presidential Election

Muhammadu Buhari has become the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, unseating President Goodluck Jonathan by 2.7 million votes. One of Nigeria’s military rulers, Buhari, 72, first came to power in a military coup in 1984. Many voters were drawn to his hard-handedness in a country marked by corruption and an Islamist insurgency by Boko Haram, both targets of much of Buhari’s aggressive rhetoric. “If he acts on his military approach to end the insurgency, Nigeria will plunge into violence and political instability. There is no military solution to Boko Haram. Buhari must address the socio-economic causes of the insurgency to advance democratic values and foster economic development,” Amir H. Idris, professor and chair of African and African American Studies, said.

Palestine Becomes Member of ICC

As of April 1, Palestine has become an official member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In January, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas acceded to the 1998 Rome Statute, which created the court, after the United States and Israel blocked a U.N. Security Council measure calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. Palestine has given the ICC jurisdiction over incidents beginning in June 2014, a month before Israel launched its 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, including nearly 1,500 civilians, opening the door to prosecute Israeli war crimes. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, opened a preliminary examination in January. The Israeli military is conducting several already in an attempt to stymie external efforts to hold the military accountable for war crimes. “[Palestinian ICC membership] could mean prosecution not only of Israelis, but also Palestinians – including groups like Hamas. As the ICC’s preliminary examinations typically last months or years, it may be a whole year before we see how the ICC will proceed,” Karen Corrie, adjunct professor of political science and former trial lawyer for the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, said.

Obama Imposes Sanctions on Venezuelan Leaders

In March, the White House imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan senior officials, citing human rights violations and corruption. As a legal requirement to justify the sanctions, President Obama declared Venezuela “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security,” but has since rescinded this classification. 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries issued support for President Nicolás Maduro and rejected the US sanctions, claiming they are a threat to Venezuelan sovereignty and aren’t actually about human rights given U.S. support of repressive regimes across the world and its long-time attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government in Venezuela. “Regardless of what one can think of the wisdom of Maduro’s policies, it is hard to see how Venezuela — a country in the middle of a deep economic crisis, high inflation and high crime rates — can represent such a threat to the most powerful country in the world,” Hector Lindo-Fuentes, professor and associate chair of history, said.