TIME Aid

Most Foreign Aid Does Not Go to Neediest Countries, Report Finds

Advocacy group ONE urges donor nations to designate 50% of their aid budgets to "least-developed countries"

Amazing strides have been made in reducing poverty worldwide over the last quarter century — the rate has halved since 1990, from 36% of the world’s population to 18% — but rather than clapping themselves on the back, aid organizations are now calling for rich nations to go even further, and help eradicate “extreme poverty” altogether.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on no more than $1.25 a day, a figure that encapsulates not only an absence of cash, but often of clean water, education, and even a meal. The circumstance still applies to more than 1.2 billion people, a disproportionate number of whom live in Africa, where poverty has actually increased. Yet most foreign aid goes to countries that are better off.

“We all find it quite surprising how little—32 %—of U.S. aid goes to the poorest countries,” says Tom Hart, North America director of the advocacy group ONE, which on Tuesday released a 127-page report calling for donor nations to designate 50% of their aid budgets to “least-developed countries.”

The 50% goal is at the heart of a new global strategy against poverty, aimed at picking up with the conclusion of the 15-year international campaign known as where the Millennium Development Goals. The new effort, dubbed Sustainable Development Goals, will be articulated at a conference in Ethiopia in July, and adopted in the months beyond by assorted convocations of the international bodies ranging from the G-20 to the Committee on World Food Security.

But the brow-beating has already begun, as advocates struggle both to correct misperceptions about foreign aid among the U.S. public, and lobby Washington and other major donors to direct the roughly $140-billion they give each year to where it is most needed.

The fact is that only about 1% of the U.S. federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average American thinks it’s more like 28%, according to a Kaiser poll from earlier this year. And though that American is likely to shelve reflexive objections to the spending when informed of the reality, polls show that the misperception persists year after year.

Advocates for aid believe it can be more effective with the advent of technology that allows aid dollars to be tracked at every stage, including the stages where some of those dollars have in the past disappeared into the pockets of corrupt foreign officials.

The new global strategy expects more of receiving governments — calling for each to provide a basic package of health and education services, with help from donors as needed. For example, Liberia, which was an epicenter of the Ebola outbreak last year, spends $6 per person on basic services each year; it needs to spend $300, and requires $317 million to make up the difference.

The new strategy also calls for specifically directing aid to women and girls. “Poverty is sexist,” the ONE report states, noting that by almost every measure life is harder for women and girls in the poorest countries than it is for men. But at the same time, helping females serves to lift the whole of the societies in which they are so central.

“When we invest in girls and woman, that has more catalytic results that pulls everybody out of poverty,” says Eloise Todd, global policy director for the ONE campaign. Over time, that investment should be made as directly as possible, not necessarily through governments, adds Gargee Ghosh, director of policy and finance for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “We need to focus more on poor people,” Ghosh says.

But the first message to rich countries is that they need to focus on the poorest. Of 29 donors, only Iceland directed more than 50 percent of its aid to the least developed countries. “Something’s going really wrong in the way a lot of donors are allocating their aid,” says Todd. “Finding the end of extreme poverty is going to be a lot harder than the previous 15 years.”

TIME Crime

The Generation Gap Behind the Waco Biker Shootout

The shootout between motorcycle clubs and cops in Waco, Tex. that left nine dead and led to more than 190 arrests may have been caused by competing claims of dominion over the state of Texas. But according to experts on outlaw biker clubs, the melee traces its roots to a larger generational shift in the makeup of the clubs themselves.

Outlaw motorcycle clubs sprang up in the late 1940s and were especially popular among combat veterans returned from World War II. Membership surged again in the wake of the Vietnam War, and seems to be experiencing another spike from younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. While there’s money in the mythos– many clubs have websites and gift shops and attorneys for Hell’s Angels routinely file trademark infringement suits–none of that diminishes the potent appeal that draws members. Besides a love of riding, that lure is often the unit cohesion that’s the bedrock of any military unit, and the extraordinary bonds created by shared risk.

“We’re entering now a third generation in this subculture, and I think that’s as much as anything what’s going on, what happened in Texas,” says Don Charles Davis, who writes the Aging Rebel blog from Los Angeles. Davis says he has no reason to doubt that the Waco shootout broke out, as widely reported, over turf: One club, the Bandidos, has controlled Texas since shortly after the club’s founding in the mid 1960s, mostly by Vietnam Vets, coloring its logo in the red and gold of the Marines Corps, and under the rubric, “We are the people our parents warned us about.” But Davis said he was struck by the relative youth of the Cossacks, the upstart club that also claimed Texas, and rolled into the Waco meeting of motorcycle clubs uninvited and in force.

“They’re young. I’m old,” Davis says. “Vietnam vets who were the last big impetus to outlaws, we all have gray hair now. [Hell’s Angels founding member] Sonny Barger is like 76 now. ..A younger club isn’t scared.” He sees the Cassocks rolling on the Bandidos “the same way the Mongols decided to get it on with the Hell’s’ Angels, because they’d been to Vietnam and they weren’t afraid of anything. It’s not only a dispute over territory, but also a matter of generations. We’ve been at war for about 12 years now. There are a lot of disaffected combat vets, and that’s mostly where motorcycle outlaws come from, for various social and psychological reasons.”

Not every expert is fully on board with that theory. Randy McBee, a history professor at Texas Tech and author of the forthcoming “Born to be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist,” wonders whether anyone who might be dealing with the stress of combat would hang around anything as loud as a Harley engine. Yet the affinity of bikers to military service is on full display each Memorial Day weekend, when thousands assemble in Washington D.C. for the gathering called Rolling Thunder.

“The argument the Easy Riders were making in the ’80s is, the brotherhood that surrounds service, that surrounds conflict, that there’s no equal to that,” McBee says. “And the closet thing you can get to it is riding.”

Still, McBee sees a difference between the older clubs–McBee calls the ’60s and ’70s “kind of the golden age of motorcycling”–and the upstarts. “It seems like there’s a boldness to it that’s hard to make sense of,” he says. “Most of the crimes that I’m familiar with from the ’60 and ’70s, were in [private] clubs, or bars, not in a restaurant in Waco, Texas.”

“Motorcycle clubs are function of military service, period,” declares William Dulaney, who is both national president of Hell on Wheels Motorcycle Club and a professor of organizational communication at Air University, located on Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. “Chain of command is very strictly adhered to. Its’ about identity for a group of people who, outside this social structure, don’t have much identity. You’re talking about a core identity to a bunch of warriors.”

And yet, even as Harley sales soared and weekend warriors, known derisively by outlaw clubs as RUBs, or rich urban bikers, crowded highways, the clubs that started it all lost a lot of their juice. “Back in the ’80s, or like 1995, dude, gangland, no doubt about it,” Dulaney says. “But those days are gone. ” Federal RICO prosecutions and other law enforcement efforts have dramatically reduced the criminal threat level from outlaw groups, as perhaps has aging. Dulaney now numbers himself among the older generation, and understands the violence in Waco as a problem of kids these days.

“They don’t have years and years if not decades in the subculture, understanding that there is hierarchy,” he says. Young bucks may enjoy the swagger of wearing a leather vest, but they fail to respect the full import of the patches, or “colors,” sewn on the back, he says. The diamond-shaped patch reading “1%” denotes the wearer as a member of the outlaw elite. And the place name — “Texas” — sewn at the base of the vest in the embroidered crescent bikers call the bottom rocker, announces more than a claim on turf.

“The way to understand the bottom rocker, with 1 percenters, is it’s territory, yeah, but it’s responsibility,” Dulaney says. “Because they have responsibility to enforce peaceful coexistence in that area. Because if they don’t, law enforcement will come in and be all over you.”

 

 

 

TIME Panama Canal

The Panama Canal Gets Grander

panama-canal-expansion
George Steinmetz for TIME Larger locks on the Pacific end of the canal will feed bigger ships into a new, parallel channel.

More than a century after it was built, the waterway grows to take bigger ships

The last time someone dug a trench through the Isthmus of Panama, the result was declared the greatest wonder of its age. It’s being done again–mountains toppled, earth moved by the millions of tons, oceans connected–and the wonder this time is that anyone notices.

Consider the crowd that assembled on April 28 to see the last, most impressive piece of the new and improved Panama Canal being literally slotted into place. A massive sea gate standing 11 stories tall moves on its own down the great concrete sluice that Caterpillars and Putzmeisters have carved from the jungle. Atop dozens of little rubber wheels, the behemoth creeps along, steered by a man in a hard hat toggling a remote control slung around his neck. And the only journalists on hand to document the historic moment are local ones, save for one reporter. “You get lots of calls from foreign reporters,” says Monica Martinez, who handles media relations for the canal expansion. “But mostly from shipping magazines.”

Clearly we are in a different age. When the Panama Canal was first cut, ships were the only way from one continent to another, and canals were what shrank the world. They still do, in maritime terms, and with shipping driving global commerce as never before, a second age of canals is upon us. The Suez, which has connected the Mediterranean to the seas of Asia since 1869, is adding lanes to accommodate two-way traffic on much of its 120 miles (193 km) through Egypt. Turkey has plans to dig a canal parallel to the Bosporus Strait linking the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. And China is planning to spend up to $70 billion on an entirely new canal across Nicaragua, the route the U.S. championed before bisecting Panama.

But wonders these days are something you hold in your hand–the tiny computers that construction workers are extending at arm’s length to snap selfies as the 9 million-lb. (4 million kg) gate pivots into its slot. Small drones whiz past with a dragonfly buzz, carrying even smaller cameras, miniaturization being very much the current direction of progress, even as ships grow larger. And larger.

Supersize

The Vessels the Panama Canal was first built to accommodate, when it was completed in 1914, were 106 ft. (32 m) abeam, a width that dictated the maximum for oceangoing ships known as Panamax. But after accepting control of the canal from the U.S. in 2000, Panamanian officials surveyed shipbuilders’ intentions and glimpsed a future that spelled the canal’s obsolescence.

The problem was not the largest ships on the sea–the gargantuan bulk carriers known as Capesize. No canal can accommodate them. The problem was the more modest ocean workhorses, the container ships that account for 60% of the world’s shipping–a great deal of it between China and the U.S. East Coast. Though a million vessels passed through Panama in the canal’s first 100 years, shipping–like globalization itself–operates on economies of scale. And the scale was outgrowing the canal. A ship 106 ft. wide and 965 ft. (294 m) long–the maximum Panamax–can carry perhaps 5,000 containers. Widen the beam to 160 ft. (49 m) and the length to 1,200 ft. (366 m)–the size of a ship that can fit in the new channel–and the container count rises to 13,000. If Panama didn’t make room, those new ships would reach America from China via the wider Suez, imperiling Panama’s surging national economy.

So in 2007, digging commenced. When the new locks open, probably early next year, ships arriving from the Pacific will pass under the Bridge of the Americas and approach what amounts to a toll plaza. Smaller vessels will bear to the right, toward the locks that for a century have lifted ships 85 ft. (26 m) to the level of the Gatun Lake, the giant man-made pond that makes up much of the canal. At the other end of the lake, another set of locks will lower the boats back to sea level, to continue their journey into the Caribbean.

Bigger ships will bear left to the new locks, mammoth chambers wide enough that vessels no longer need to be guided through them by cables attached to the “mules” that still operate on the old locks. Cheerful little locomotives the color of a chewing-gum foil wrapper, they delicately center a Panamax with just 2 ft. of clearance on either side. With a roomy 20 ft. (6 m) extra in the new locks and rubber bumpers, tugs will shepherd the ships through, the norm at other canals.

The new locks also operate differently. While the old chambers feature miter gates–which open and close like double doors–the new gates, made in Italy, slide in from one side, like a pocket door. The freshwater from the lake above will rush in and out through cavernous, curving culverts that, as workers complete the finishing touches, feel like something from King Solomon’s Mines. Basins next to each lock will store water for a single reuse, reducing freshwater usage by 7% per passage. The same new locks are also being installed on the Atlantic side, but in the midsection of the isthmus all ships will continue to steam along the original waterway, which has been upgraded. Curves in the famous Culebra Cut, named for the mountain ridge the original canal had to be cut through, are being widened to ease turns for the bigger ships. Metal communication towers are going up behind the picturesque lighthouses that string the length of the canal, along which 625 new lights are being installed.

Everything is bigger and more efficient–but also a bit less interesting than in the old canal, like a dull I-95 compared with the kicks of Route 66. But superhighways are what the Seven Seas have become. The number of cargo ships worldwide has more than quadrupled over the past 20 years, to 50,000 vessels carrying $13 trillion in goods each year. In a world economy bound together by supply chains–cars to China, sneakers to Houston–sea travel long ago ceased being leisurely. The canal takes reservations months in advance, collecting a 15% booking fee on a toll that often runs to $400,000 but guarantees passage in no less than 18 hours.

The economic rewards of efficiency have made Panama City’s vertiginous skyline the equal of Miami’s. A third of the nation’s GDP flows from the canal, counting ancillary businesses like the railroad–first built to carry California gold miners across the isthmus–and the ports, which do a brisk business shuttling containers from large vessels to smaller ones. The $5.25 billion expansion is projected to double the canal’s capacity. Panamanian officials hope their country can ultimately become the place things not only pass through but also come together–the pieces in all those containers assembled and shipped onward with value added. “We could be a Singapore,” says Rodolfo Sabonge, a former senior canal official now heading the University of the Caribbean.

So one era’s engineering wonder finds itself another era’s logistical hub. The Age of Progress that the original canal crowned has hummed along so long that the marvels of the new wonder might best be described by absences. “I haven’t been stressed on this project before,” says Ilya Espino de Marotta, who has ultimate authority over the expansion, as she finishes a tour taking in cavernous basalt mines, four miles (6 km) of new levees and a couple of hills scheduled to come down. “I’m starting to become stressed.”

Canal construction can do that: building the original Panama Canal toppled a government in France, which dug from 1881 to ’89 through a pestilential land dubbed “Death’s Nursery” for the perhaps 25,000 workers who died there, thanks mostly to malaria and yellow fever. But for Marotta, easily identified on the job site by her pink hard hat and safety vest, the source of creeping unease was simply the project deadline, which requires dovetailing the final efforts of contractors who until now had worked independently. Deaths on the current project have totaled six so far, she says, detailing the circumstances of each one. “Our target was zero,” Marotta says. In any age, you’d have to call that progress.


This appears in the May 25, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi King’s Absence at Obama Summit Moves Spotlight to Mysterious Son

An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly-appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
EPA An undated handout file photograph made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows the then newly appointed Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

With King Salman set to miss Obama's summit of Gulf nations, U.S. officials can size up his powerful son

On one hand, the announcement that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will not attend President Obama’s Camp David summit of Gulf Arab monarchs on Thursday, despite having earlier accepted the invitation, highlights all over again the considerable strains between Washington and Riyadh. In the four months since Salman came to power, the Kingdom has defied the U.S. by starting one war in Yemen and reviving the most problematical elements in another, sending new support to the Syrian opposition forces that include the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, the king’s absence—ostensibly to deal with a brief cease-fire in Yemen, but widely viewed as a snub—will give U.S. officials a chance to size up the young fellow who the monarch has invested with immense new powers: His son, also known as the Minister of Defense, as well as president of the royal court. Mohammad bin Salman may be 29, as some accounts have it, or 34, the age offered in other reports. Or somewhere in between. The uncertainty speaks volumes about how little is known of the fresh-faced young prince, derided by the Supreme Leader of arch-rival Iran as “an inexperienced youngster.”

“I don’t think anybody knows who he is,” says F. Gregory Gause III, head of the international affairs department of the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. “He’s never had a job where he had a counterpart with Americans in bilateral talks. I think there’ll be plenty of people looking to size him up.”

The jobs that young bin Salman holds are known well enough. Defense is a ministry awash in money. “That’s where the rake-offs occur in the system,” says Charles A. Freeman, who was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. And head of the royal court is basically chief of staff, putting the king’s son in daily charge of the ruling apparatus.

But the lack of information about bin Salman himself says a great deal about how fast the ground is shifting in the Middle East—and especially in the House of Saud, the family that has ruled the Kingdom since it appeared on the sands of the Arabian Peninsula in 1932. Saudi-watchers used to be the Middle East’s version of the Kremlinologists who studied the Soviet Union. The players in both places moved at processional speed and change, should it occur, was glacial. But then Salman took power following the January death of his brother Abdullah, who ruled for 10 years.

“Basically what’s happened in Saudi Arabia since the death of Abdullah is a series of political coup d’etats,” says Freeman. “In Arabia, genealogy is ideology and lineage really is faction. In any one-party system you have factions, and in a one-family system you have factions.” Despite Salman’s reputation as a conciliator between branches of the family, since ascending to the throne, Freeman says, “he’s basically cut them all out.”

Salman, 79, was expected to be the Saudi ruler who prepared for the inevitable transfer of power to a younger generation of Saudi princes. But rather than casting the net wide, he designated his nephew as the new Crown Prince—the first grandson of the founding King, Abdulaziz, to be so named—and his own young son Mohammad as Deputy Crown Prince, or second in line. The nephew is already well known in Washington: Mohammad bin Nayef, 55, has long been Interior Minister and run the Saudis’ counter-terror operations; he has twice met with President Obama in the Oval Office. But in selecting him, the king reached past hundreds of waiting princes.

“The model was kind of corporate leadership within a number of senior members of the older generation, and they didn’t always get along and they didn’t always agree, but they had a general corporate sense of where they wanted the country to go and it worked well for more than 50 years,” says Gause. “I thought the new king would try to recreate that kind of corporate responsibility across a number of people in the new generation, but that’s obviously not what Salman wanted. He’s privileged a couple of people and cut out a large number. And how that affects family cohesion down the line will be interesting to watch.”

For now, the war in Yemen, aimed at a Shi’ite rebel group advancing in the neighboring state, has provided a rallying effect at home. It also had the effect of forcing the U.S. to provide battlefield intelligence and targeting information (“not to support them would leave the relationship with no content,” says Freeman). But the fundamental problem remains Iran, the Saudis’ great regional rival. Riyadh feels threatened not only by Tehran’s gains in Iraq and Yemen, and continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, but—even more—by Obama’s engagement with the Iranians. Along with fellow members of the Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council, they feel threatened by the attention Washington is paying to Iran, in a region where attention equals prestige, or even license. Already almost wholly reliant on the U.S. for their defense, the Gulf Arab monarchs are asking for a formal treating with Washington guaranteeing their protection, something Obama officials say they cannot provide.

“I think their fears that we are going to just throw them over and that Iran will be our big ally in the region are greatly exaggerated,” says Gause. But those are the fears that prompted the Obama administration to convene the Camp David summit. And if King Salman cannot make it, Freeman says, he may have sussed it out as a “pseudo-event.”

“The Saudis and others have learned from Israel that you can give the United States the bird,” says Freeman. But that, the former ambassador adds, may work out for the best at Camp David. “Having the two Mohammads—bin Nayef and bin Salman—in this thing puts the two people who are actually running things in there. So if there’s something that’s actually going on in Saudi Arabia, these are the two who can make things happen.”

TIME Iran

The 3 Things the Ayatullah Wanted to Achieve in His Defiant Speech

Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to crowds during a ceremony in Tehran on April 9, 2015.
Official Supreme Leader Website/EPA Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to crowds during a ceremony in Tehran on April 9, 2015.

The Supreme Leader appealed to hard-liners while leaving the door open to the U.S.

Ayatullah Ali Khamenei broke his silence on the outline of a nuclear deal with the West on April 9, in a speech widely understood to be a buzzkill. “I have told the officials to not trust the opposing side,” he said, “to not be fooled by their smiles, to not trust their promises because when they have achieved their objectives they will laugh at you.”

But was it really a nail in the coffin for the negotiations? There’s no one answer, not least because over the week that followed it has become clear Iran’s Supreme Leader was trying to do several things at once:

1. Take control of the narrative.

By the time Khamenei, 75 and ailing, took the stage in Tehran in April, it was clear Iran’s right-wingers needed to be let out of their cage. At that point, all the skepticism toward the outline agreement seemed to be coming from the U.S. Congress, and in these negotiations, skepticism back home serves to improve one’s bargaining position. Every harsh appraisal from the Hill — which appears poised to demand review of any final deal — arms Western negotiators with new leverage to push even harder for Iranian concessions, as the two sides seek to nail down specifics before the June 30 deadline for a final pact.

But American politicians outshouting Iranians in opposition to a nuclear deal is a strange and rare dynamic, like McDonald’s hawking the Whopper, with Iran in the role of Burger King. The Leader set out to right the universe. Three times in his speech Khamenei called on negotiators to heed or answer “critics,” conspicuously lifting the ban on smack talk. He also directed them to address two specific points that apparently remain outstanding: the timing of lifting all sanctions, which Khamenei said should be immediate, and access of U.N. inspectors to Iranian military facilities, which he at least appeared to forbid.

2. Quiet the crowds.

Iran’s theocratic government is not a monolith, and the unpleasant political reality was that the factions least identified with Khamenei received all the acclaim for the prospective deal announced on April 2. Cheering reformist Foreign Minister Javad Zarif upon arrival from Switzerland, the crowd at the airport chanted, “Kayhan, Israel, our condolences,” naming a hard-line newspaper (whose editor Khamenei appoints) as a loser. Khamenei used his speech to declare that there’s nothing to cheer yet. “Nothing has yet been done and no binding topic has been brought up between the two sides,” he said, in the transcript posted on his personal website, www.leader.ir. “Therefore, extending congratulations is pointless.”

Abbas Milani, who runs the Iranian studies program at Stanford, tells TIME that while President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the platform of striking a deal, Khamenei “doesn’t want Rouhani to get too much credit. He’s very clear: If there’s a deal, it’s because I wanted it. And if there’s not, it’s because these guys were too frivolous to understand they were giving away too much.”

3. Keep the door open.

Khamenei may well loathe and distrust America, but along with the usual name-calling (“obstinate, unreliable, dishonest and into backstabbing”), his speech made clear his willingness to seal a deal — and even work with Washington on future projects, should this one end well. “Of course, the negotiations on the nuclear issue are an experience,” he said. “If the opposite side gives up its misconduct, we can continue this experience in other issues.” He even raised the possibility of extending the talks beyond the June 30 deadline, one more measure of how badly Iran needs a final pact. The regime Khamenei inherited in 1989 from Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini may or may not want a nuclear weapon, but without relief from economic sanctions it will be in continuing danger. It’s not only a matter of the hardship born by ordinary Iranians, but by the state itself. Iran’s public sector accounts for perhaps three-quarters of the national economy, directly employing 80% of the Iranian workforce. Small wonder that Khamanei authorized the nuclear negotiations with a call for “heroic flexibility.”

The Supreme Leader’s speech can be seen as a kind of “Rorschach test,” Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has written extensively on Khamenei, tells TIME. “He throws a lot of red meat to his hard-line base to reassure them he’s still an anti-American revolutionary. But careful readers also notice that underneath all the vitriol, he leaves the door of compromise with the U.S. slightly ajar. Given how badly the Iranian people want this deal to happen, Khamenei doesn’t want to be seen in their eyes as the obstacle.”

All of which, when the dust has cleared, looks like a stronger position for the West as the next round.

TIME Cuba

Obama’s Move to Drop Cuba From Terror List Sets Up Showdown With Congress

PANAMA-AMERICAS-SUMMIT-CUBA-US-OBAMA-CASTRO
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images Cuba's President Raul Castro, left, speaks during a meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City, Panama.

Four months after promising to review Cuba's place on the terrorism list, Obama aims to remove the main obstacle to reopening a Havana embassy

President Obama formally moved on Tuesday to remove Cuba from the short, brutish list of states supporting terrorism. The technical finding — that Havana had not offered material support to terrorists in the previous six months — is likely to trigger the first substantial political challenge to Obama’s decision to end the half-century of U.S. efforts to isolate the regime that has ruled Cuba since 1962. By law Congress has 45 days to pass a joint resolution blocking the change, a challenge that anti-Castro lawmakers and Republican critics indicated they would take up. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen promptly declared, “This unwise decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list illustrates that the Obama Administration is willing to concede to the demands of the Castro brothers in order to set up an embassy in Cuba.”

Indeed, if the removal stands, Havana and Washington will likely reopen embassies in each other’s capitals in short order. The terrorism listing was the main obstacle in negotiations aimed at exchanging ambassadors, according to Cuban officials, who urged Obama to make good on his December vow to reconsider the designation. Last weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, where President Raúl Castro heaped scorn on the American history of interference in Latin American affairs — and praise on Obama, whom Castro called “an honest man” — the Cuban leader offered thanks in advance for Obama’s efforts to remove the designation, which prevented many firms from doing business with Cuba, and Cuban diplomats from opening bank accounts in the U.S.

“They say we’re terrorists,” Raúl Castro said on Saturday, citing the 1982 State Department finding that Havana had provided aid and arms to guerrilla groups in Latin America and Africa. “And we indeed have acted in solidarity with many peoples that may be considered terrorists” from the viewpoint of “imperialism,” Castro added. But that support largely vanished with the end of the Cold War. The last State Department justification for Cuba’s place on the terrorism listing cited previous support for the leftist insurgent guerrillas known as FARC in Colombia and the regime’s sheltering of Basque separatists. But Havana is currently hosting peace talks between FARC and Colombia’s government, and some of the Basques have returned to Spain.

“Circumstances have changed since 1982, when Cuba was originally designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America,” the State Department said in a statement. “Our hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago.”

The meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials in Panama, where Cuba was for the first time attending the Summit of the Americas, ended on a hopeful note, with vows that the embassy negotiations would resume in Havana very soon. “Our embassy personnel have had to use cash for everything and that complicates matters,” one senior Cuban official told TIME. “Having us on the terrorist list is ridiculous, but being part of the list complicates our day-to-day operations.”

Cuban officials noted that there were serious differences in the hour-long talk between Castro and Obama on April 11, mostly about human rights and elections. But, like their American counterparts, the Cubans emphasized that despite the remaining differences the two countries could start cooperating in areas of shared concern, mainly international human trafficking, drug trafficking, cybercrimes, the environment, energy and health.

Being removed from the terrorism list would also open Cuba to investors deterred by the strict U.S. censures awaiting firms doing business with listed nations. “The removal of Cuba from the list works on two levels,” said Pedro Freyre, an internationalist law specialist at Akerman LLP in Miami. “As a symbol, Cuba is removed from the list of bad actors, which now only includes Syria, Sudan and Iran. On a practical level, the ability of U.S. financial institutions to consider transactions with Cuban institutions is now facilitated. The compliance burden of engaging in transactions with countries on the list has made banking with Cuba prohibitively risky up until now. We should begin to see some movement on that front.”

First, though, it has to get past Congress. Obama’s rapprochement with Havana defied the Miami-based lobby of Cuban exiles that long dominated, if not dictated, U.S. policy toward the island, and its strength on Capitol Hill has not been tested since the new policy was announced on Dec. 17. That lobby suffered a loss with the recent indictment of Robert Menendez, the Cuban-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey who was the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Policy Committee. But another opponent of rapprochement, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, yesterday announced that he is running for the Republican nomination for President. So it’s safe to say the issue will not die for lack of attention. — With reporting by Dolly Mascareñas / Panama City

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