This article is part of a series that will be released before the end of 2015, drawing from The Contour‘s annual print issue titled Upheaval, Revolution & Tragedy: The World of 2015, which can be found online at The Contour: Print Edition
On April 11, 2015, President Obama and Raul Castro shook hands in Panama, the first time U.S. and Cuban leaders met after diplomatic relations were restored in 2014. The change in relations between the two countries was preceded by a prisoner swap and the release of a jailed U.S. contractor. An improvement of diplomatic relations with Cuba is expected to improve the U.S.’s relationship with the rest of Latin America.
The United States and Cuba ended diplomatic relations during the Cold War in 1961. During this time, Fidel Castro seized power, overthrowing Batista, the previous Cuban leader. Soon after seizing power, Castro strengthened ties with the Soviet Union, hiking taxes on American imports. The U.S. retaliated economically by slashing imports to Cuba, which President John F. Kennedy then escalated to a full economic embargo.
Under Castro, Cuba adopted a communist government. Heightened by the Cold War, the U.S. grew wary of Communism in a country so close–just under one hundred miles off the coast of Florida. In 1961, the United States called off all diplomatic relations with Cuba and attempted to overthrow the Castro regime. In the resulting Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba made a secret agreement with the Soviet Union which allowed the Soviet Union to point missiles at the United States from within Cuba. The U.S. was outraged when it found out about the agreement. After fourteen days, in a standoff known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. and Cuba came to the agreement that the United States would not invade Cuba as long as the missile sites were removed immediately.
Ever since the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S.-Cuba relations have been forever scarred. Even after the conclusion of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. still kept its embargo on Cuba. In fact, Washington twice strengthened the embargo and vowed not to lift it until Cuba held democratic elections that excluded Castro’s descendants from running.
Many praise the ending of Cuban isolation come 2015. With normalized U.S.-Cuba relations, economic reforms are beginning to take place in Cuba, which critics “hope will lead to political reforms” and better defense of human rights within Cuba. Meanwhile Cuba remains strategically important to America because of its geographic location. Improved diplomatic ties with Cuba will improve national concerns related to terrorism, illicit weapon transfers, and more.
Still, the Helms-Burton Act keeps the Embargo in place until Cuba has completely transitioned to a democratic government. But the Act may help speed Cuba’s development along. Hopes of lifting the embargo provides an incentive for leaders to lead Cuba to democracy.
by Bradford Lin ‘18 | Staff Writer