Taking Cuba off the terror list

A taxi tricycle displays a representation of a U.S. national flag, as well as a Cuban national flag, with signs that read in Spanish; "there is no limit here," in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

Latin America has changed over the past 30 years. Dictators have fallen, violent conflicts have given way to peace, guerrilla militants have been brought to justice. But Cuba and its octogenarian ruling family remain on the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism.

That should change.

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that Cuba would be removed from the State Department list, which would make it legal for United States government officials and businesses to work much more closely with the island nation. Congress has 45 days to review the decision.

Given President Raul Castro’s surprising willingness to meet U.S. demands for normalizing relations and the potential benefits that effort promises for millions of Cubans, Mr. Obama appears to have made the right call.

Cuba became the second nation on the state sponsors of terror list 33 years ago, and currently shares that designation with only three other countries: Sudan, Iran and Syria.

At the time Cuba was added to the list, its inclusion made perfect sense. The Castro regime provided moral, material and financial support for prominent terrorist groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) group in Spain.

Since then, the tide has turned against both of those groups.

The ETA declared a permanent cease-fire in 2011 and the FARC entered into peace talks with the Colombian government in 2012.

Notably, the FARC peace negotiations are being held in Havana.

Perhaps more troubling, Cuba also harbored — and indeed continues to harbor — international fugitives from those two terrorist groups. Other alleged terrorists accused of violent attacks around the world, including in the United States, have also found refuge under the Castro regime for decades.

No longer.

According to a State Department spokesman, President Castro spoke with Spanish officials this week to negotiate the extradition of two alleged members of the ETA group. Mr. Castro must be pushed to turn over those and other fugitives as soon as possible.

Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terror will require ongoing vigilance to ensure that the ruling regime never returns to its old ways. For now, Mr. Castro appears willing to take serious steps to end Cuba’s decades-long isolation.

That shift merits cautious optimism.

Like the retreat of the terrorist groups the Castros once backed, a freer Cuba would be a powerfully positive development for the stability of Latin America. The United States can help push Cuba in that direction, through normalized relations.

To that end, it’s time to take Cuba off the terror list.