Relations between the United States and the nation of Cuba have been tense ever since the Cold War. Recently, though, President Obama has taken steps to normalize relations with Cuba. This professionally written essay will discuss the United States’ embargo against Cuba and the efforts taken by Obama with respect to this embargo. It provides an example of how the writing process works at Ultius.
History of U.S.-Cuba relations
The currently prevailing tensions between the United States and Cuba can be traced back to the Cold War. As Renwick and Lee have written:
“The tumultuous U.S.-Cuba relationship has its roots in the Cold War. In 1959, Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries seized power in Havana, overthrowing Fulgencio Batista. Despite misgivings about Castro’s communist political ideology, the United States recognized his government” (paragraph 2).
Relations went downhill, however, as Castro began to actually implement a Communist public policy within his nation and drew into closer alliance with the Soviet Union. The United States began to ban imports from and exports to Cuba and also implement restrictions on American travel to Cuba. These efforts culminated in the full-scale embargo that currently exists between the two nations.
Of course, the most hostile situation between the United States and Cuba probably consisted of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961: a CIA-led operation to overthrow Castro’s regime (see Renwick and Lee). Moreover, as Suddath has indicated:
“between 1961 and 1963 there were at least five plots to kill, maim or humiliate the Cuban leader using everything from exploding seashells to shoes dusted with chemicals to make his beard fall out. The Get Smart-like plans never worked, and Castro’s Cuba soldiered on, angry as ever at the United States” (paragraph 5).
America’s views on communism and its neighbors
Improbable as they may seem, these events are in fact part of the written record concerning the relation between the United States and Cuba. It is perhaps somewhat unsurprising, then, that the connection between the two nations has been such a tense one. This situation has been produced by containment efforts during the Cold War in general and the United States’ antipathy toward Castro in particular. Among other things, the United States seems to have displayed a great deal of resentment toward having a Communist nation so close to its own geopolitical sphere of influence.
It is worth noting, however, that although the political landscape of the world changed dramatically with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, these changes have not been reflected in any meaningful way in the relationship between the Cuba and the United States. Rather, if one were to make a judgment solely on the basis of the observation of this relationship, one would be under the impression that the Cold War was still underway.
In truth, though, not only has the Cold War been over for more than 25 years, it is also the case that Fidel Castro is no longer the acting leader of the nation of Cuba. His brother Raúl is now the leader; but he, like, Fidel, is into his 80s, and the future of leadership and governance in Cuba remains uncertain. In this context, it is clear that there may be a lot of room to re-evaluate the United States’ relationship with Cuba on the basis of present realities and possibilities for the future, as opposed to merely maintaining the relationship on the basis of a past state of affairs which no longer exists. This is where Obama’s foreign policy efforts come in.
Obama’s foreign policy efforts regarding Cuba
It is clear that Obama is committed to normalizing relationships with Cuba. This commitment has been expressed by Obama having already taken whatever actions the executive branch is authorized to take toward this end. As Davis and Gordon reported back in December:
“President Obama will move as soon as next month to defang the 54-year-old American trade embargo against Cuba, administration officials said Thursday, using broad executive power to defy critics in Congress and lift restrictions on travel, commerce, and financial activities” (paragraph 1).
In effect, insofar as the embargo against Cuba has the character of a kind of negative treaty, Obama can utilize his powers as Head of State in order to reach out to Cuba and normalize at least some aspects of the relationship between the two nations.
In addition, Obama’s wishes for the transformation of U.S.-Cuba relationships featured prominently in Obama’s final State of the Union address. According to Liptak, one of the main guests invited by the White House was Alan Gross, an American prisoner who was recently released by Cuba as part of the negotiations regarding the lifting of the American embargo against Cuba. This was meant to be symbolic of Obama’s platform regarding Cuba.
Diplomatic efforts in Latin America
Moreover, Obama’s address clearly contained an explicit call for Congress to lift the embargo against Cuba that was implemented during the Cold War. This would be necessary because properly speaking, only the legislative branch has the power to accomplish this, just as it was the legislative branch that was originally responsible for the implementation of the embargo; whatever Obama can do on his own, he will not be able to address the embargo itself in its entirety. However, Obama has made it clear that this is what he would like to see achieved, and that he expects Congress to cooperate with him in this regard.
In the meanwhile, Obama’s foreign policy toward Cuba has been characterized by strong diplomatic efforts to heal the decades-long rift between the two nations. As Vick has written, for example:
“The visit of the most senior U.S. official to Cuba in 38 years gave every appearance of doing what it aimed to, drawing the nominal enemies into a distinctly Caribbean embrace, complete with broad smiles, warm body language, and actual language commodious enough that everyone could fit together for a group photo” (paragraph 1).
This is a reference to a visit to Cuba by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State. Moreover, there have been talks going on between the United States and Cuba in Canada over the last year; and the focus of these talks have been nothing other than the normalization of relations between the two nations, including agreements regarding the mutual release of prisoners. In short, Obama is clearing doing everything within his power to bring about the objective of normalization; and he has called for others to carry out whatever is necessary that is not within his own power.
It is surely worth observing that Obama’s foreign policy with respect to Cuba is in full congruence with the United Nations’ own recommendation regarding this matter. According to Donath and Charbonneau, the UN General Assembly has voted almost unanimously for 23 years straight that America’s foreign policy has failed and it is necessary for the United States to end its embargo against Cuba; the only nations that have opposed this resolution are the United States itself and its ally Israel.
Of course, this timeline coincides with the end of the Cold War: essentially, the UN has recognized that since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there has been no legitimate rationale for the United States to continue with its embargo against Cuba. Obama’s foreign policy would merely bring the United States into congruence with the international consensus.
Opposition to Obama’s Cuban deal
Opponents of Obama’s foreign policy with the United States, however, generally tend to focus on Cuba’s human rights record. In particular, the conditions that were set when the embargo was implemented pertained to greater transparency in Cuba’s treatment of dissidents and the transition of the Communist nation toward a democratic form of government. It would seem to be clear that neither of these conditions has been met; therefore, the argument is that if the United States were to “back down” from the embargo before gaining concessions, this would come across as a sign of weakness (see ProCon.org).
Interestingly, many of the opponents of normalization of relations with Cuba actually have Cuban American ties. This is presumably because many of the Cubans who immigrated to America likely did so because of political differences with Castro and the nation’s Communist government. This produces a strange situation in which the immigrants from Cuba may themselves be the most outspoken critics of that nation.
On the balance, though, it would seem that the European Union, United Nations, and Obama are correct in seeing the American embargo against Cuba as a relic of the Cold War that no longer adequately reflects the real nature of the relationship between the United States and Cuba. There surely will remain tensions between the two nations that will need to be worked out over the coming times; however, ending the embargo would likely create improved conditions for working out those further conflicts that still genuinely persist to this day.
This surely would imply concern regarding Cuba’s human rights record. However, for a sense of perspective, it is perhaps worth noting that China’s human rights record are not exactly exemplary either, but that the United States would likely never dream of implementing an embargo against China. In short, the embargo seems to reflect a certain lack of proportion that only becomes intelligible if it is considered within the context of the Cold War; and now that the Cold War is over, it is perhaps time to revise American foreign policy in light of present realities.
In summary, this essay has consisted of a discussion of the American embargo against Cuba and President Obama’s foreign policy efforts to lift this embargo and transform U.S.-Cuba relations. The essay began with a description of the history of the relationship between the two nations, proceeded to discuss Obama’s efforts to normalize relations within the two nations, and finally reflected on Obama’s foreign policy from an international perspective.
Over the course of this discussion, a key point that has emerged is the fact that the American embargo against Cuba would very much seem to be a relic from foreign policy from the era of the Cold War, and that it is inappropriate in light of the geopolitical configuration of the modern world today. This is the position that has been affirmed by the United Nations, and Obama’s foreign policy must be understood as simply an effort to bring the United States into congruence with this international consensus.
Davis, Julie Hirschfeld, and Michael R. Gordon. “Obama Intends to Lift Several Restrictions against Cuba on His Own.” New York Times. 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/us/politics/obama-intends-to-lift-several-restrictions-against-cuba-on-his-own.html?_r=.
Donath, Mirjam, and Louis Charbonneau. “For 23rd Time, U.N. Nations Urge End to U.S. Embargo on Cuba.” Reuters. 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/28/us-cuba-un-idUSKBN0IH1RN20141028
Liptak, Kevin. “Cuba Politics Front-and-Center during State of the Union.” CNN. 20 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/20/politics/cuba-sotu/.
ProCon.org. “Should the United States Maintain Its Embargo against Cuba?” ProCon.org, 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://cuba-embargo.procon.org.
Renwick, Danielle, and Brianna Lee. “U.S. Cuba Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations, 20 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://www.cfr.org/cuba/us-cuba-relations/p11113.
Suddath, Claire. “A Brief History of U.S.-Cuba Relations.” Time. 15 Apr. 2009. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1891359,00.html.
Vick, Karl. “Cubans Appear More Relaxed in Smooth U.S. Talks.” Time. 24 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. http://time.com/3681298/cuba-u-s-talks/.