The relationship between two countries is usually very political. There are a variety of factors that affect the relationship, such as proximity, economic ties, exchange of resources, etc. Currently, the United States and Cuba do not have any diplomatic ties. However, this was not always the case. For decades, the United States and Cuba had a very strong relationship. In this brief paper, we will discuss the United States' relationship with Cuba after Fidel Castro gained power. However, in order to make important conclusions, it is also important to discuss the dynamics of the United States' relationship before Castro.
Before Fidel Castro
North America's relationship with Cuba has existed from the time when the United States was just a colony of Britain. The relationship evolved immensely during that time and this section seeks to provide a background on that relationship.
17th and 18th Centuries
In the 17th century, Great Britain occupied the continent of North America. North America's closest Caribbean neighbor, Cuba, was occupied by Spain. This Spanish influence on Cuba still remains to the present day. During this time period, the trade relationship between North American and Cuba focused on the trade of goods such as tobacco and sugar. However, the relationship was tense because the primary reason for trading with Cuba was to avoid taxation on goods from Great Britain. This is an important concept to focus on because it has strong undertones with the current relationship with Cuba in the Castro era.
In the mid-late 1700's, the American Revolution freed thirteen colonies from British control. These colonies banded together and formed the United States.
Examining this list reveals some very important information about the United States' initial relationship with Cuba. All of the colonies are on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The weather in these colonies is not ideal for growing or harvesting crops. Therefore, the United States effectively had to develop farming in the small amount of southern land available. Naturally, Cuba was an excellent resource for trade because of its proximity to the United States and excellent climate for tobacco and sugar. With Great Britain out of the picture, the trade relationship grew rapidly.
In 1881, the United States' Secretary of State declared a very strong interest in Cuba. The Secretary argued that Cuba was the key to the Gulf of Mexico and the main source of trade in the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, the United States made the acquisition of Cuba as a territory a priority. Just before the 19th century, the United States offered to buy Cuba from Spain for $300 million dollars. A Cuban resistance against Spanish control was brewing and the United States made the offer at a very strategic time. However, Spain rejected the offer. The relationship continued forward on edge until the Spanish American War just a year later in 1898. The outcome of this conflict was the Treaty of Paris, which included a provision where Spain relinquished all control of Cuba. The United States was now free to exercise its influence as the only dominant player in the region.
The United States remained the dominant player in Cuba for ten years after the Treaty of Paris. US troops occupied Cuba and many Americans had purchased property on the island. After 10 years, however, Cuban resistance continued to grow in favor of complete independence. The United States and Cuba consequently signed the Platt Amendment, which granted full independence to Cuba. However, the Platt Amendment stipulated two factors that are important to the Castro era of Cuba. First, it allowed the United States to intervene in Cuba's political and economic affairs at free will. This was important to the United States to ensure that any Cuban government was pro-US. Second, it allowed the United States to maintain an occupation on the southern most tip of Cuba; this, as we know today, is where the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison is located.
Post-Independence Cuban Relations
The ability to interfere in Cuban economic and political affairs soured the Cubans' perceptions of the US. Several domestic affairs in Cuba, such as racial tensions and uprisings between ethnic groups, were cause for the US military to intervene. Although on paper the occupation was over, in reality it continued subversively. The United States continued down a path of militarily and economically supporting only Cuban leaders who were immensely pro-US. At the peak of the US-Cuba relationship, US companies owned 60% percent of the sugar crop in Cuba and 95% of the total Cuban sugar crop was imported to the US. In the mid-1900's, the Cuban people again rose up against the government; the resistance was led by Fidel Castro, who was only interested in overthrowing the current regime and installing Manuel Lleo as President. The US, in its usual fashion, supported the new government and aided in overthrowing the old regime. This time, however, something changed. Cuba's new government started nationalizing US industries in Cuba. Tensions began to rise. In an effort to be diplomatic, Cuba's Fidel Castro came to the US and met with President Richard Nixon. The effort was futile and every time Cuba acted against US interests, the US responded by acting against Cuban interests by implementing barriers to trade. This escalation continued until Fidel Castro took action. Castro polarized the political arena and denounced the President he was once supported. In 1959, President Manuel Lleo stepped down and Fidel Castro was sworn into office.
After Fidel Castro
It is clear that when Fidel Castro came into power, tensions between the United States and Cuba were very high. Both countries could have taken diplomatic measures to improve their relationship. However, neither the US nor Cuba was interested in doing so. The United States thought it had all of the power and Cuba was determined to gain full independence. This section seeks to describe how the US-Cuban relationship evolved after Castro took power.
Castro continued to issue regulation and pass laws that limited American influence in the region. As the US escalated its trade barriers, Cuba had no choice but to open trade with countries who did not recognize the United States' restrictions. The primary country that Cuba went to was the Soviet Union. In effect, this mirrors many of the similarities that the United States' colonies had with Cuba during the Cuban-Spanish conflict. The one key difference is that the United States was the country losing influence.
The shift in the balance of trade was very worrisome to the US. At that time, the US and the Soviet Union were in the heat of the cold war. The tensions peaked when Cuba imported oil from Russia. Upon delivery, the American owned refineries in Cuba refused to process the oil. Castro, in return, expropriated the refineries and effectively took control of them. For the United States, this was the final straw. The United States severed all diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Bay of Pigs and Political Fallout
Three months after President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office in the United States, Cuban exiles that were armed and trained by the United States launched an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The exiles had been promised strong military support, such as air firepower. However, this promise never materialized. In my opinion, the reason for this is because President Kennedy felt that the US had not supported Cuba in developing the country and was acting as an aggressive big brother. In some minor way, it seemed as though he was pro-Cuba. Nonetheless, the Cuban exiles were crushed by Cuban firepower from communist and eastern European nations. For Cuba, this was the final straw. In the typical tit for tat reactionary escalation between the US and Cuba, Fidel Castro broadcasted to the world that he was disbanding the election process, taking power as a dictator, and adopting Communism.
The United States, as expected, was appalled. Very rapidly the relationship with Cuba went from bad to horrible. The fight of democracy versus communism went to a whole new level. In 1961 the United States implemented a complete trade embargo against Cuba. Shortly thereafter, the embargo was adapted to include a complete travel ban. In effect, the United States and America severed all social ties in addition to the diplomatic ties previously severed. Cuba and the United States were now political opponents.
Cuban Missile Crisis
In 1962, just a year after all US-Cuban relations were severed, the Soviet Union and Cuba developed a plan to place nuclear missiles on Cuban soil only 90 miles from Florida. The United States discovered the plan from an intelligence gathering aircraft. Understandably, the United States interpreted this as an act of aggression. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, viewed it as a retaliatory measure to the placement of US nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy.
President Kennedy directed the United States Navy to blockade Cuba. This is by far the closest the United States and Russia came to nuclear war. Cuba consistently requested first-strike capability against the US if war erupted; however, Russia would only permit Cuba to launch its nuclear weapons if it were invaded by the United States.
Based upon all of the commotion, the Cuban missile crisis ended in a relatively uneventful way. The Soviet Union simply retracted the vessels containing the warheads. It was not until later that the public recognized that a secret deal had been made. In exchange for recalling the warheads headed towards Cuba, the US removed its nuclear missile installations in Turkey and Italy. In addition, the US promised not to invade Cuba.
The Fall of the Soviet Union
In 1991, the Soviet Union's communist government collapsed. This was an immense win for the United States and for the US' position against Cuba. After all, Cuba's closest ally was suddenly completely out of the picture. In addition, the failure of communism and the affirmation of capitalism must have been gut wrenching for Castro.
As a consequence, Cuba was suddenly and completely isolated from the world. The country had limited resources and limited avenues for trade. The true effects of the embargo were left to play their role against Cuba. Avenues for trade were limited and the US position against the Soviet Union's preference for Cuba was clear to the world. Most countries heeded this understood warning and stayed away from Cuba.
In the decade after, Cuba was forced into bankruptcy and has been on the verge of collapse several times. In the 20th century, the island was slammed by a Hurricane. For the first time since the installation of the US trade embargo, the US offered a helping hand to Cuba. Cuba refused humanitarian aid on principle and instead agreed to a one-time purchase of food from the US20.
21st Century Relations
In today's world, the Cuban and United States relations are at a relative standstill. The embargo remains in full force but periodically chatter does arise about progress. Fidel Castro is no longer in power; in 2006, he temporarily transferred power to his brother, Raul Castro, in order to undergo an abdominal surgery. It was rumored that Fidel Castro had pancreatic cancer but these were never confirmed. Official news from Cuba reported that Castro had an intestinal problem that was being treated. However, in 2008, Fidel Castro officially resigned from the Presidency. Today, Raul Castro remains in power.
Fidel Castro's retirement has further propagated the chatter surrounding a rebuilding of the Cuban- American relationship. However, no action has been taken yet and likely will not occur until after Fidel Castro's death.
Analysis of the Cuban American Relationship
It is clear from the US and Cuba's complicated history that individuals on both sides of the relationship have been affected. This section seeks to describe the effects on both the US and Cuba.
The loss of Cuba as a trading power has had some important national security consequences. Cuba is a country that is rich with fertile soil. The United States regularly imported large amounts of tobacco and sugar from the island. Generally speaking, the cost of growing goods in the United States and bringing them to the US and global markets is prohibitively expensive. Therefore, the United States subsidizes its agriculture on the grounds that having a domestic food supply is of supreme national security importance. If the United States' relationship with Cuba were positive and politically aligned, this national security threat would be less because the US could reliably import some of its food goods from a nearby neighbor.
Another important consequence to Americans is the social factor. Many Cubans live within the United States. However, they are unable to visit their family and play a role in their estranged family's lives. This is especially troublesome because Cuba is so close geographically. Another social factor is the consistent immigration of Cubans into the US. Every year, many Cubans attempt to swim or boat their way to Florida to be free. Not only does this jeopardize the lives of innocent individuals, but it also taxes US resources.
Lastly, the severance of diplomatic and social ties with Cuba has not affected the general population of Americans. Cuba would be a prime tourist destination, however the bottom half of the US population is too young to even recognize this because the Cuban embargo has been in place for most of their lives.
The impact on Cuba has been much more severe. No matter how you look at the situation, the US has bullied Cuba into a corner. As a consequence, Cuba has seen detrimental effects to its economy, political climate, and world reputation.
Economically, Cuba does not have any valuable resources except for its fertile land. World prices of commodities are so low that this does not generate enough cash flow to maintain the country. In addition, the agriculture industry is not enough to employ all Cubans. Therefore, Cuba is forced to rely on the tourism industry to bring in cash. This economic model is worrisome for two reasons. First, most people do not have a good enough reason to visit Cuba. Those in Europe and Asia have their own vacation spots nearby. In the western hemisphere, the only people who could potentially visit Cuba are Canadians and those from Latin America. The biggest source of tourists would come from the US but the embargo prevents this; Cuba must feel the pinch. Second, in recent years, the world tourism industry has been significantly low. This further enhances the economic pinch for Cuba.
Socially, individuals in Cuba do not have many options. Families are separated from their estranged loved ones in the US. In addition, jobs are scarce and many feel the lack of freedom. Several policy specialists have said multiple times that the embargo has helped Castro to stay in power; lifting the embargo and building a relationship would likely lead Cubans to oust Castro. However, now that Castro is likely nearing the end of his life, maintaining the status quo is an equally reasonable position.
On the global level, Cuba is nothing more than an island in America's backyard. It's geographical overshadowing by the US is also similar on the world political map. Many countries in the world are considered to be developing; Cuba is right there with them, except for the fact that the US, big brother, has them backed to a corner. What this means is that Cuba lacks political clout.
Potential for a Relationship
In my opinion, the US and Cuba relationship has been mismanaged from the beginning. The country was oppressed by Spain and it was also oppressed in the name of democracy by the US. If the US had regarded Cuba as a true asset and aided in its development towards actual independence, the relationship between Cuba and the US would be much stronger. Arguably, the political ties would be significant. In many ways the relationship with Great Britain mirrors the potential relationship between the US and Cuba. Great Britain is an island in Europe and yet the United States has found a great relationship in that country. Cuba might be an island, but it is in the US' back door. There is no good reason to continue the bullying; the US should improve its relations with Cuba. In my opinion, this will likely happen after Fidel Castro passes away.
The relationship between the US and Cuba has been around from the 17th century. For many years, the relationship was founded on a strong trade relationship. Without the flow of sugar and tobacco into the United States in its primacy, it would have been significantly more difficult for the US to establish itself. However, when it came for the United States to return the favor with Cuban independence, the backing was not there. This led to a significant souring of US-Cuban relations and a no-win game of chess. Today, both sides remain opposed with no progress in many years. The effects on the US and Cuba have been significant. The US has lost a close potential ally. In addition, it has dealt with the issues of Cuban immigration for some time. For Cuba, the issues are much greater and have led to bankruptcy, political turmoil, and social issues. Overall, it is the opinion of the author that the relationship between the US and Cuba did not have to go down this path. If the US had more actively supported the principles of democracy instead of imperialism, Cuba might have been a prosperous island nation with a close relationship to the US.