Early 2021, America added Cuba to a list of countries that are considered "state sponsors of terrorism". The fact that Cuba is on this list has serious consequences for the Cuban government and its population when it comes to providing for basic necessities. It also has an impact on travellers who want to apply for an ESTA, but who have at one point been in Cuba.
Cuba listed as state sponsor of terrorism since 2021
At present there are four countries that are considered state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Iran. The rationale for the blacklist is that it allows the US State Department to determine whether a country has supported acts of international terrorism. It is likely however, that this list is based by and large on assumptions and incomplete information. Indeed, in the case of Cuba, the US Government has little evidence that the country is now or has ever been a sponsor of terrorist activities and would therefore pose a threat to the US.
US attitude towards Cuba
As of 2015, Cuba was no longer on the list of state sponsors of terrorism after former President Barack Obama removed Cuba from it (Cuba was first added to this list in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan). On 12 January 2021, then-President Donald Trump added Cuba to the list again during his last week in office, just days before current US President Joe Biden was inaugurated. There is no evidence, however, that anything to the effect had changed in Cuba since 2015, making the decision appear to be a mere political move to undo as many of Obama’s policies as possible.
Appeal to Biden to remove Cuba from the list
The fact that Cuba is currently seen by America as a state sponsor of terrorism has adverse effects on the Cuban government and people. The United States have an enormous influence on the global financial system. As a result, banks and companies refuse to do business in Cuba because they fear reprisals from the US government if they try to break the US embargo blockade. Due to the blockade, some companies for this reason even refuse to export goods which are legally exempt, such as medical goods. Mainly raw materials, reactive agents, diagnostic kits and pharmaceutical drugs and equipment are concerned.
US President Joe Biden has the opportunity and the means to remove Cuba from the state terrorism sponsors list. In declaring his candidacy, Biden made it clear that he would reverse the Trump administration’s strict sanctions on Cuba. Yet so far, he has done no such thing.
Effect on your ESTA application
Because Cuba is on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, travellers who have been in Cuba on or after 12 January 2021, cannot apply for an ESTA. Travellers who have been to Cuba from 12 January 2021 can still apply for a USA visa. The application procedure for a physical visa takes a lot longer than applying for an ESTA, as you have to apply for this visa in person. In addition, the costs for this are also quite a bit higher.
So before you leave for the US, check in good time whether you meet the conditions for an ESTA and, if not, whether you need to apply for a US visa instead. It is not clear yet if the visa measure will be enforced, and, if so how strictly, but it is wise to take timely precautions.