On this day in 2016, Barack Obama made the first US state visit to Cuba since Coolidge in 1928, marking a potential shift in the historically strained area of US-Cuban relations.
Obama’s presidency highlighted a tangible desire to restructure interactions between the USA and Cuba, a trend described as the ‘Cuban Thaw‘, initiated in 2014 following the announcement of a normalisation agreement between Obama and Raul Castro. This agreement guaranteed the lifting of certain travel restrictions and remittance restraints as well as the reintroduction of the US embassy in Cuba (and Cuban embassy in the USA), delivering both symbolic and palpable actions in the process of diplomatic reintegration. Following this initial gesture, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List in April 2015, as well as initiating the biggest prisoner swap with Cuba since the imposition of the embargo before officially restoring diplomatic ties in July 2015, further illustrating a push away from an alienated cold-war era politics between the countries.
The relationship between Cuba and the USA has been rocky to say the least, with conflicting systems of government and alliances threatening any sustained and comprehensive cohesion between the countries.
In 1902, Cuba was granted independence following a series of conflicts with Spanish rule and brief US military rule after agreeing to provisions of the Platt Amendment, effectively allowing US intervention if deemed necessary. According to Thomas, by 1926, US companies owned 60% of the Cuban sugar industry and 95% of the crops produced, reflecting the extent of investment America continued to hold within Cuba. In 1933, the ascendancy of Grau to the presidency in Cuba led to the immediate nullification of the Platt Amendment, triggering a frosty reception from Washington. The United States refused to recognise Grau’s government as legitimate, claiming the state had become ‘communistic’; the ultimate insult.
Close co-operation between the USA and Cuba was however, restored under the leadership of General Batista. Batista was elected for his first term (1940-44) and then served as a US backed military dictator until 1959, allowing for the return of a dominant US in Cuban economic affairs until the Cuban Revolution threatened and overturned the existing status quo, with America withdrawing arms sales to Batista in a move which considerably aided the victory of the rebels.
I know Batista is considered by many as a son of a bitch… but American interests come first… at least he was our son of a bitch
-State Department adviser William Wieland
Post- revolutionary confrontation and diplomatic regression
The ideological alignment of the new dominant political force in Cuba once more threw the nature of US relations into the balance. Indeed whilst Eisenhower recognised the new government in an official capacity, nationalisation reform and overt commitments to socialist policy concerned America, initiating gradual trade restrictions with the country. The extent of tension reached such a level that Eisenhower authorised the training of guerilla forces to overthrow Castro’s government when necessary. By 1960 all exports to Cuba were banned, with diplomatic recognition withdrawn in 1961.
The animosity felt towards Cuba’s disregard for American private interests became particularly overt with the Bay of Pigs Invasion 1961; 1500 CIA operatives attempted to overthrow the Cuban government and were defeated, ultimately consolidating the leadership and government of Castro. When considered along the 8 confirmed plots to kill Castro between 1960 and 1965 (638 estimated according to Escalante), American actions continued to highlight that the chasm developed between Cuba and the USA was becoming increasingly impossible to overcome. A context of cold-war conflict, with events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis continued to widen this rift with presidents continuing to tighten trade embargoes with Cuba long after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Obama’s clear commitment to moving forwards in cooperative action between the two countries appeared to mark a new era of US-Cuban relations however, the recent election of Donald Trump, a supporter of the trade embargo with Cuba puts such a definitive shift in the balance once more, contributing to a diplomatic history characterised by its tumultuous and inconsistent nature.
Read more about Castro: (https://the-feedback.co.uk/2017/02/16/february-16th-2017/)
Read more about Coolidge, the president who made a state visit to Cuba in 1928: (https://the-feedback.co.uk/2017/02/22/february-22nd-2017/)