This analytical essay from Ultius will explore how after years of tension, President Barack Obama opened the doors to Cuba, and easing relations between our two nations.
No good deed goes unpunished! That is probably what President Obama was thinking when he returned home to the United States after his trip to Cuba. A full page response to Obama’s trip appeared in Granma, the Cuban communist-party newspaper, according to Patrick Oppmann of CNN. Entitled “Brother Obama,” Fidel Castro excoriated Obama’s visit and reparative sentiments, “We don’t need the empire to give us anything,” stated the former Cuban president.
Likely the citizens of Cuba, who have lived a consistently impoverished lifestyle after years of Castro rule do not agree with his bombastic rhetoric which has kept their country struggling and disadvantaged for years. After years of blockades and embargoes, and the collapse of the USSR, their financiers (“Poverty in Cuba”), it might be a good idea for sickly revolutionary Castro to fade to black.
On March 20th 2016, Barrack Obama made a historic trip to the communist island nation of Cuba (DeYoung, Miroff & Eilperin). Barrack, the First Lady Michelle, his daughters Malia and Sasha, and his mother-in-law, landed in Cuba, the first sitting U. S. President to make such a trip in eighty eight years. The First Family was greeted by Cuban government officials including Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, the senior U.S. Diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and the head of the U.S. section of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal. A meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro was scheduled for Monday (DeYoung, Miroff & Eilperin).
There was a mixture of reactions to the President’s arrival. However, one consistent thread was restrained expectancy and composed disquietude. No one was really sure how things were ultimately going to turn out. There were two palpable forces there to greet the President, the communist forces of evil and those who oppose the current leadership, dissidents who hope against hope that the historic conversations would be a bellwether for change, and represent a beacon for quick and decisive impact on the lives of the population who have been suffering blight and poverty for so many years (DeYoung, Miroff & Eilperin).
Cuban embargo and blockade
The Cuban embargo, referred by its citizens as el bloqueo or “the blockade,” was signed into effect by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 (“Should the United States”). The embargo consists of economic sanctions and restrictions on commerce and travel by U. S. citizens and companies. It has been the subject of international revile for years. The United Nations (U. N.) has decried the action for at least twenty two years. In fact, in 2013, the U. N. vote against the embargo was 188-2, with Israel, the only nation supporting the U. S. policy. It is estimated that the Cuban embargo has cost the U. S. economy over $2.50 billion annually. In the job creation sector, assessments suggest that over six thousand jobs could be created if the embargo were fully lifted. In 2001, in response to a hurricane that decimated the nation, the United States started exportation of food and supplies to Cuba. In fact, the U. S. is now the nation’s second largest provider of foodstuffs. In 2008, yearly food sales to Cuba have been approximately $710 million (“Should the United States”).
Relations between the U.S. and Cuba over the years
The United States and Cuba enjoyed an interactive relationship in the 1800s through the 1950s (“Should the United States”). The U. S. supported, Batista run government, sold over 87% of its products to the United States. Havana, the island nation’s capital was a popular destination for U. S. tourist, visiting the assorted resorts and casinos. In 1959, Cuban nationalist, Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista government and created a communist state, the first one in the western hemisphere. American assets in Cuba were seized and uncompensated, with a loss anywhere from $6 to $20 billion. In addition to the loss of assets, having a communist neighbor so close to the United States border created apprehension. In 1960, Eisenhower signed an initial and limited embargo on products sent to Cuba. The U. S. Embassy in Havana was thereafter closed as diplomatic relations concluded, as well (“Should the United States”).
- In 1961, President Kennedy attempted an invasion of Cuba, in an attempt to remove Castro from power (“Bay of Pigs”). The guerilla invaders were American trained Cuban ex patriates who had left Cuba when Castro took over the country. The invasion, on April 17th, called the Bay of Pigs failed because they were outnumbered by communist troops, with the exile brigade surrendering in less than twenty four hours. One hundred and fourteen were killed and over a thousand were taken prisoner. A U. S. espionage plane watched as the Soviet Union provided Cuba with nuclear missiles. In February of 1962, Kennedy signed a full embargo against Cuba, (but not before sending his press secretary to buy up as many Cuban cigars as possible) (“Bay of Pigs”).
- October of 1962 saw the advance of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a perceived threat that the nuclear missiles observed in Cuba provided by the USSR were located just ninety miles from U.S. shores (“Cuban Missile Crisis”). Kennedy threatened military force if the Soviet Union did not remove the missiles from Cuba. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles and the United States agreed not to invade Cuba (“Cuban Missile Crisis”). In 1963, the comprehensive economic embargo was set in motion preventing travel to Cuba and prohibiting any monetary interactions with the country, including buying or importing Cuban merchandise (“Should the United States”).
- In 1980, Castro allowed 125, 000 Cubans, in what was called the Mariel Boatlift, an antagonistic reaction on the part of Castro to attempts by the Carter Administration to thaw the Cold War between the countries (“Castro Announces”). Among the émigrés were relatives of Cubans who had fled to the U. S., and 2500 mentally ill patients and prisoners. The goal was to reduce the number of those critical of Castro, reduce food shortages and embarrass the United States (“Castro Announces”).
- In 1992, the embargo was strengthened with the advent of the Cuban Democracy Act and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (“Should the United States”). The legislation prevented U. S. subsidiaries in foreign countries from conducting any form of trade with Cuba, sanctioned companies investing in American property seized in the revolution, and prevented U. S. dollars mailed as a gift to relatives or others. The Act drew no support from other countries, including allies such as the U.K., France, Canada and Mexico (“Should the United States”).
- Cuba had received $3 billion in financial support annually from the USSR (“Should the United States”). But, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aid stopped and the island nation fell into even more decline. In response to the decline, the government opened the country up to some tourism and foreign investment.
- In 1995, President Clinton hoped to reduce the pressures of the sanctions against the Cubans, yet stress from loud voices in opposition stopped him from doing more (“Should the United States”). The Cuban Migration Agreement, also known as the wet foot/dry foot policy was implemented, where Cubans who were found by enforcement in the waters (wet foot) approaching the U. S. were returned to Cuba, those who made it to shore (dry foot) were allowed to remain in the country.
- In 2004, George W. Bush created even more restrictive requirements on the embargo (“Should the United States”). Penalties and fines were enacted, the violation of which could be imprisonment and $1 million in fines. The retributions were so staunch even those ex patriates who supported the embargo were upset by the increased restrictions. In 2006, Fidel gave temporary control of the country to his brother Raul due to intestinal surgery, then officially resigned in 2008 (“Fidel Castro”).
Obama Administration and Cuba
President Obama expressed his disdain for United States policy on Cuba, as early as his time in the Senate. He stated,
The Cuban embargo has failed to provide the sorts of rising standards of living, and has squeezed the innocents in Cuba and utterly failed to overthrow Castro, who has now been there since I was born. It is now time to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed (“Should the United States”).
Yet as President, he was not totally gung-ho. He wanted to receive some reciprocation from Cuba that there was a
“kind of genuine spirit of transformation inside of Cuba that would justify us eliminating the embargo” (“Should the United States”).
Raul has announced that he will resign his position in 2018, with both brothers in their 80s, there is the hope that there will be significant change in Cuba, and that a new regime will change the direction and the hopes and dreams of the Cuban people forever.
The President and his family landed at Jose Marti International Airport, where the remnants of fifty years of embargos were reflected in the rundown terminals hosting a single runway, and where dilapidated Russian-built planes reflected the toll Cubans have had to pay for the arrogance of the rule of an old broken-down man (Korte). Raul Castro met the President on Monday. Close to a thousand reporters were in attendance from over two hundred news outlets based in over fifty countries.
The President also met with U. S. Diplomats there to establish relations with the Cubans in their newly reopened embassy. Kristin East of Politico even notes, they took in a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National baseball team. Michelle Obama dedicated two magnolia trees and bench at a library in Old Havana which said,
“A gift to the people of Cuba from Mrs. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the U.S., March 2016″ (East).
While in Cuba, Obama and National Security Advisor, Susan Rice spoke with Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco for updated information on the Brussels terrorist attack. Obama gave a speech at a theatre in Havana on Tuesday. He stated that he had come to Cuba for the purpose of burying the remaining left-overs of the Cold War. The President also participated in a roundtable where he indicated that Cubans should be allowed free speech without fear, and should embrace democracy, which was presented in a televised discussion (East).
Damien Cave of the New York Times points out that Cubans themselves are thirsty for technological advancements and access to the Internet. The idea of developing entrepreneurship surrounding technology is on the horizon, and there is an excitement about it. As this sample essay from Ultius points out, challenges still exist, and it is not going to be a walk in the park, the energy is building and people from around the world are recognizing the potential that exists in Cuba as their circumstances begin to change for the better (Cave). Obama pronounced during his televised discussion:
It is time for us to look forward to the future together — a future of hope . . . and it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks. It will take time. But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do. We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family – together (Oppmann).
“Bay of Pigs Invasion.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 17 April 2016.
“Castro Announces the Mariel Boatlift.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 17 April 2016.
Cave, Damien. “With Obama Visit to Cuba, Old Battle Lines Fade.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 26 March 2016. Web. 17 April 2016.
“Cuban Missile Crisis.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 17 April 2016.
DeYoung, Karen, Miroff, Nick and Eilperin, Juliet. “Obama begins historic visit to Cuba.” The Washington Post. Nash Holdings LLC. 20 March 2016. Web. 17 April 2016.
East, Kristen. “Inside Obama’s Cuba trip.” Politico. Politico, LLC. 20 March 2016. Web. 17 April 2016.
Korte, Gregory. “President Obama touches down in Cuba, launching history-making visit.” USA Today. Gannett Company, Inc. 21 March 2016. Web. 17 April 2016. .
Oppmann, Patrick. “Fidel Castro blasts Obama’s trip: Cuba doesn’t need ’empire’ for anything.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 29 March 2016. Web. 17 April 2016.
“Poverty in Cuba, Welfare in a Broke Country.” Poverties. Poverties.org. February 2012. Web. 17 April 2016.
“Should the United States Maintain Its Embargo against Cuba?” ProCon.org. n. d. Web. 17 April 2016.