Cuba–United States relations

Cuba–United States relations are bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States. Cuba and the United States restored diplomatic relations on 20 July 2015, relations which had been severed in 1961 during the Cold War. U.S. diplomatic representation in Cuba is handled by the United States Embassy in Havana, and there is a similar Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. The United States, however, continues to maintain its commercial, economic, and financial embargo, making it illegal for U.S. corporations to do business with Cuba.

The hold of the Spanish Empire on possessions in the Americas was reduced in the 1820s as a result of the Spanish American wars of independence; only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule until the Spanish–American War (1898) that resulted from the Cuban War of Independence. Under the Treaty of Paris, Cuba became a U.S. protectorate from 1898-1902; the U.S. gained a position of economic and political dominance over the island, which persisted after it became formally independent in 1902.

Following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, bilateral relations deteriorated substantially. In 1961, the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Cuba and began pursuing covert operations to topple the Communist regime.[1] In October 1960, the U.S. imposed and subsequently tightened a comprehensive set of restrictions and bans against the Cuban regime as retaliation for the nationalization of U.S. corporations' property by Cuba. The 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the 1962 missile crisis, and American efforts to stand up to Fidel Castro's attempts to spread communism throughout Latin America and Africa, are main highlights of U.S. antagonism towards Cuba during the Cold War, although Nixon, Ford, Kennedy, and Johnson resorted to back-channel talks with the Cuban government during the Cold War.[2]

On 17 December 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S., which media sources have named "the Cuban Thaw". Negotiated in secret in Canada and Vatican City[3] over preceding months, and with the assistance of Pope Francis, the agreement led to the lifting of some U.S. travel restrictions, fewer restrictions on remittances, U.S. banks access to the Cuban financial system,[4] and the establishment of a U.S. embassy in Havana, which closed after Cuba became closely allied with the USSR in 1961.[5][6] The countries' respective "interests sections" in one another's capitals were upgraded to embassies on 20 July 2015.[7] On 20 March 2016, President Barack Obama visited Cuba, becoming the first U.S. President in 88 years to visit the island.[8]

On 16 June 2017 President Donald Trump announced that he was suspending the policy for unconditional sanctions relief for Cuba, while also leaving the door open for a "better deal" between the U.S. and Cuba.[9][10]

A 2016 survey shows that 77% of Cubans have a favorable view of the United States, with only 4% expressing an unfavorable view.[11]

Cuba–United States relations
Map indicating locations of Cuba and USA


United States
Diplomatic mission
Cuban Embassy, Washi D.C.United States Embassy, Havana
Ambassador Jessica RodríguezChargé d'affaires Mara Tekach

Historical background


John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, who as U.S. Secretary of State compared Cuba to an apple that, if severed from Spain, would gravitate towards the U.S.

Relations between the Spanish colony of Cuba and polities on the North American mainland first established themselves in the early 18th century through illicit commercial contracts by the European colonies of the New World, trading to elude colonial taxes. As both legal and illegal trade increased, Cuba became a comparatively prosperous trading partner in the region, and a center of tobacco and sugar production. During this period Cuban merchants increasingly traveled to North American ports, establishing trade contracts that endured for many years.

The British occupation of Havana in 1762 opened up trade with the British colonies in North America, and the American Revolution in 1776 provided additional trade opportunities. Spain opened Cuban ports to North American commerce officially in November 1776 and the island became increasingly dependent on that trade.

Florida Moyne 1591.jpeg
Detail of 1591 map of Florida and Cuba

19th century

After the opening of the island to world trade in 1818, trade agreements began to replace Spanish commercial connections. In 1820 Thomas Jefferson thought Cuba is "the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States" and told Secretary of War John C. Calhoun that the United States "ought, at the first possible opportunity, to take Cuba."[12] In a letter to the U.S. Minister to Spain Hugh Nelson, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams described the likelihood of U.S. "annexation of Cuba" within half a century despite obstacles: "But there are laws of political as well as of physical gravitation; and if an apple severed by the tempest from its native tree cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union, which by the same law of nature cannot cast her off from its bosom."[13]

In August 1851, 40 Americans who took part in Narciso López's filibustering expedition in Cuba, including William L. Crittenden, were executed by Spanish authorities in Havana.[14] In 1854, a secret proposal known as the Ostend Manifesto was devised by U.S. diplomats, interested in adding a slave state to the Union. The Manifesto proposed buying Cuba from Spain for $130 million. If Spain were to reject the offer, the Manifesto implied that, in the name of Manifest Destiny, war would be necessary. When the plans became public, because of one author's vocal enthusiasm for the plan,[15] the manifesto caused a scandal, and was rejected, in part because of objections from anti-slavery campaigners.[16]

The 10th United States Infantry Regiment – The Army of Occupation in Havana circa 1898.

The Cuban rebellion 1868-1878 against Spanish rule, called by historians the Ten Years' War, gained wide sympathy in the United States. Juntas based in New York raised money and smuggled men and munitions to Cuba while energetically spreading propaganda in American newspapers. The Grant administration turned a blind eye to this violation of American neutrality.[17] In 1869, President Ulysses Grant was urged by popular opinion to support rebels in Cuba with military assistance and to give them U.S. diplomatic recognition. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish wanted stability and favored the Spanish government and did not publicly challenge the popular anti-Spanish American viewpoint. Grant and Fish gave lip service to Cuban independence, called for an end to slavery in Cuba, and quietly opposed American military intervention. Fish worked diligently against popular pressure, and was able to keep Grant from officially recognizing Cuban independence because it would have endangered negotiations with Britain over the Alabama Claims. Daniel Sickles, the American Minister to Madrid, made no headway. Grant and Fish successfully resisted popular pressures. Grant's message to Congress urged strict neutrality and no official recognition of the Cuban revolt.[18]

By 1877, Americans purchased 83 percent of Cuba's total exports. North Americans were also increasingly taking up residence on the island, and some districts on the northern shore were said to have more the character of America than Spanish settlements. Between 1878 and 1898 American investors took advantage of deteriorating economic conditions of the Ten Years' War to take over estates they had tried unsuccessfully to buy before while others acquired properties at very low prices.[19] Above all this presence facilitated the integration of the Cuban economy into the North American system and weakened Cuba's ties with Spain.

1890s: Independence in Cuba

As Cuban resistance to Spanish rule grew, rebels fighting for independence attempted to get support from U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant declined and the resistance was curtailed, though American interests in the region continued. U.S. Secretary of State James G. Blaine wrote in 1881 of Cuba, "that rich island, the key to the Gulf of Mexico, and the field for our most extended trade in the Western Hemisphere, is, though in the hands of Spain, a part of the American commercial system ... If ever ceasing to be Spanish, Cuba must necessarily become American and not fall under any other European domination."[20]

The Administration's Promises Have Been Kept
1900 Campaign poster for the Republican Party depicting American rule in Cuba

After some rebel successes in Cuba's second war of independence in 1897, U.S. President William McKinley offered to buy Cuba for $300 million.[21] Rejection of the offer, and an explosion that sank the American battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor, led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as "the U.S. intervention in Cuba's War of Independence".[13] On 10 December 1898 Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas and marked the beginning of United States expansion and long-term political dominance in the region. Immediately after the signing of the treaty, the U.S.-owned "Island of Cuba Real Estate Company" opened for business to sell Cuban land to Americans.[22] U.S. military rule of the island lasted until 1902 when Cuba was finally granted formal independence.

Platt amendment page 1
Opening page of the Platt Amendment.

Relations 1900–1959

The Teller Amendment to the U.S. declaration of war against Spain in 1898 disavowed any intention of exercising "sovereignty, jurisdiction or control" over Cuba, but the United States only agreed to withdraw its troops from Cuba when Cuba agreed to the eight provisions of the Platt Amendment, an amendment to the 1901 Army Appropriations Act authored by Connecticut Republican Senator Orville H. Platt, which would allow the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs if needed for the maintenance of good government and committed Cuba to lease to the U.S. land for naval bases. Cuba leased to the United States the southern portion of Guantánamo Bay, where a United States Naval Station had been established in 1898. The Platt Amendment defined the terms of Cuban-U.S. relations for the following 33 years and provided the legal basis for U.S. military interventions with varying degrees of support from Cuban governments and political parties.

Despite recognizing Cuba's transition into an independent republic, United States Governor Charles Edward Magoon assumed temporary military rule for three more years following a rebellion led in part by José Miguel Gómez. In the following 20 years the United States repeatedly intervened militarily in Cuban affairs: 1906–09, 1912 and 1917–22. In 1912 U.S. forces were sent to quell protests by Afro-Cubans against discrimination.

By 1926 U.S. companies owned 60% of the Cuban sugar industry and imported 95% of the total Cuban crop,[23] and Washington was generally supportive of successive Cuban governments. However, internal confrontations between the government of Gerardo Machado and political opposition led to his military overthrow by Cuban rebels in 1933. U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles requested U.S. military intervention. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, despite his promotion of the Good Neighbor policy toward Latin America, ordered 29 warships to Cuba and Key West, alerting United States Marines, and bombers for use if necessary. Machado's replacement, Ramón Grau assumed the Presidency and immediately nullified the Platt amendment. In protest, the United States denied recognition to Grau's government, Ambassador Welles describing the new regime as "communistic" and "irresponsible".[13][24]

The rise of General Fulgencio Batista in the 1930s to de facto leader and President of Cuba for two terms (1940–44 and 1952–59) led to an era of close co-operation between the governments of Cuba and the United States. The United States and Cuba signed another Treaty of Relations in 1934. Batista's second term as President was initiated by a military coup planned in Florida, and U.S. President Harry S. Truman quickly recognized Batista's return to rule providing military and economic aid.[13] The Batista era witnessed the almost complete domination of Cuba's economy by the United States, as the number of American corporations continued to swell, though corruption was rife and Havana also became a popular sanctuary for American organized crime figures, notably hosting the infamous Havana Conference in 1946. U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Arthur Gardner later described the relationship between the U.S. and Batista during his second term as President:

Batista had always leaned toward the United States. I don't think we ever had a better friend. It was regrettable, like all South Americans, that he was known—although I had no absolute knowledge of it—to be getting a cut, I think is the word for it, in almost all the things that were done. But, on the other hand, he was doing an amazing job.[25]

As armed conflict broke out in Cuba between rebels led by Fidel Castro and the Batista government, the U.S. was urged to end arms sales to Batista by Cuban president-in-waiting Manuel Urrutia Lleó. Washington made the critical move in March 1958 to prevent sales of rifles to Batista's forces, thus changing the course of the revolution irreversibly towards the rebels. The move was vehemently opposed by U.S. ambassador Earl E. T. Smith, and led U.S. State Department adviser William Wieland to lament that "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.[26]"

Post-revolution relations

Until Castro, the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that the American ambassador was the second most important man, sometimes even more important than the Cuban president.

— Earl E. T. Smith, former American Ambassador to Cuba, during 1960 testimony to the U.S. Senate[27]

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially recognized the new Cuban government after the 1959 Cuban Revolution which had overthrown the Batista government, but relations between the two governments deteriorated rapidly. Within days Earl E. T. Smith, U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, was replaced by Philip Bonsal. The U.S. government became increasingly concerned by Cuba's agrarian reforms and the nationalization of industries owned by U.S. citizens. Between 15 and 26 April 1959, Fidel Castro and a delegation of representatives visited the U.S. as guests of the Press Club. This visit was perceived by many as a charm offensive on the part of Castro and his recently initiated government, and his visit included laying a wreath at the Lincoln memorial. After a meeting between Castro and Vice-President Richard Nixon, where Castro outlined his reform plans for Cuba,[28] the U.S. began to impose gradual trade restrictions on the island. On 4 September 1959, Ambassador Bonsal met with Cuban Premier Fidel Castro to express "serious concern at the treatment being given to American private interests in Cuba both agriculture and utilities."[29]

The Escambray rebellion was a six-year rebellion (1959–1965) in the Escambray Mountains by a group of insurgents who opposed the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro. The rebelling group of insurgents was a mix of former Batista soldiers, local farmers, and former allied guerrillas who had fought alongside Castro against Batista during the Cuban Revolution. As state intervention and take-over of privately owned businesses continued, trade restrictions on Cuba increased. The U.S. stopped buying Cuban sugar and refused to supply its former trading partner with much needed oil, with a devastating effect on the island's economy, leading to Cuba turning to their newfound trading partner the Soviet Union for petroleum. In March 1960, tensions increased when the freighter La Coubre exploded in Havana Harbor, killing over 75 people. Fidel Castro blamed the United States and compared the incident to the sinking of the Maine, though admitting he could provide no evidence for his accusation.[30] That same month, President Eisenhower quietly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to organize, train, and equip Cuban refugees as a guerrilla force to overthrow Castro.[31]

Each time the Cuban government nationalized American citizens properties, the American government took countermeasures, resulting in the prohibition of all exports to Cuba on 19 October 1960. Consequently, Cuba began to consolidate trade relations with the USSR, leading the U.S. to break off all remaining official diplomatic relations. Later that year, U.S. diplomats Edwin L. Sweet and William G. Friedman were arrested and expelled from the island having been charged with "encouraging terrorist acts, granting asylum, financing subversive publications and smuggling weapons". On 3 January 1961 the U.S. withdrew diplomatic recognition of the Cuban government and closed the embassy in Havana.

Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy believed that Eisenhower's policy toward Cuba had been mistaken. He criticized what he saw as use of the U.S. government influence to advance the interest and increase the profits of private U.S. companies instead of helping Cuba to achieve economic progress, saying that Americans dominated the island's economy and had given support to one of the bloodiest and most repressive dictatorships in the history of Latin America. "We let Batista put the U.S. on the side of tyranny, and we did nothing to convince the people of Cuba and Latin America that we wanted to be on the side of freedom".[32]

In 1961 Cuba resisted an armed invasion by about 1,500 CIA trained Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs.[33] President John F. Kennedy's complete assumption of responsibility for the venture, which provoked a popular reaction against the invaders, proved to be a further propaganda boost for the Cuban government.[34] The U.S. began the formulation of new plans aimed at destabilizing the Cuban government. These activities were collectively known as the "Cuban Project" (also known as Operation Mongoose). This was to be a coordinated program of political, psychological, and military sabotage, involving intelligence operations as well as assassination attempts on key political leaders. The Cuban project also proposed attacks on mainland U.S. targets, hijackings and assaults on Cuban refugee boats to generate U.S. public support for military action against the Cuban government, these proposals were known collectively as Operation Northwoods.

A U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee report later confirmed over eight attempted plots to kill Castro between 1960 and 1965, as well as additional plans against other Cuban leaders.[35] After weathering the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba observed as U.S. armed forces staged a mock invasion of a Caribbean island in 1962 named Operation Ortsac. The purpose of the invasion was to overthrow a leader whose name, Ortsac, was Castro spelled backwards.[36] Tensions between the two nations reached their peak in 1962, after U.S. reconnaissance aircraft photographed the Soviet construction of intermediate-range missile sites. The discovery led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Trade relations also deteriorated in equal measure. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy broadened the partial trade restrictions imposed after the revolution by Eisenhower to a ban on all trade with Cuba, except for non-subsidized sale of foods and medicines. A year later travel and financial transactions by U.S. citizens with Cuba was prohibited. The United States embargo against Cuba was to continue in varying forms.

Relations began to thaw during President Lyndon B. Johnson's tenure continuing through the next decade and a half. In 1964 Fidel Castro sent a message to Johnson encouraging dialogue, he wrote:

I seriously hope that Cuba and the United States can eventually respect and negotiate our differences. I believe that there are no areas of contention between us that cannot be discussed and settled within a climate of mutual understanding. But first, of course, it is necessary to discuss our differences. I now believe that this hostility between Cuba and the United States is both unnatural and unnecessary – and it can be eliminated.[37]

Through the late 1960s and early 1970s a sustained period of aircraft hijackings between Cuba and the U.S. by citizens of both nations led to a need for cooperation. By 1974, U.S. elected officials had begun to visit the island. Three years later, during the Carter administration, the U.S. and Cuba simultaneously opened interests sections in each other's capitals. In 1980, after 10,000 Cubans crammed into the Peruvian embassy seeking political asylum, Castro stated that any who wished to do so could leave Cuba, in what became known as the Mariel boatlift. Approximately 125,000 people left Cuba for the United States.

Propaganda a Cuba 07
Poster in Bay of Pigs

In 1977, Cuba and the United States signed a maritime boundary treaty in which the countries agreed on the location of their border in the Straits of Florida. The treaty was never sent to the United States Senate for ratification, but the agreement has been implemented by the U.S. State Department.

In 1981 President Ronald Reagan's new administration announced a tightening of the embargo. The U.S. also re-established the travel ban, prohibiting U.S. citizens from spending money in Cuba. The ban was later supplemented to include Cuban government officials or their representatives visiting the U.S. In 1985 Radio y Televisión Martí, backed by Ronald Reagan's administration, began to broadcast news and information from the U.S. to Cuba.

After the Cold War

The Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, leaving Cuba without its major international sponsor. The ensuing years were marked by economic difficulty in Cuba, a time known as the Special Period. U.S. law allowed private humanitarian aid to Cuba for part of this time. However, the long standing U.S. embargo was reinforced in October 1992 by the Cuban Democracy Act (the "Torricelli Law") and in 1996 by the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act (known as the Helms-Burton Act). The 1992 act prohibited foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, and family remittances to Cuba.[38] Sanctions could also be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. As a result, multinational companies had to choose between Cuba and the U.S., the latter being a much larger market.

On 24 February 1996, two unarmed Cessna 337s flown by the group "Brothers to the Rescue" were shot down by Cuban Air Force MiG-29, killing three Cuban-Americans and one Cuban U.S. resident. The Cuban government claimed that the planes had entered into Cuban airspace.

Some veterans of CIA's 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, while no longer being sponsored by the CIA, are still active, though they are now in their seventies or older. Members of Alpha 66, an anti-Castro paramilitary organization, continue to practice their AK-47 skills in a camp in South Florida.[39]

In January 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton eased travel restrictions to Cuba in an effort to increase cultural exchanges between the two nations.[40] The Clinton administration approved a two-game exhibition series between the Baltimore Orioles and Cuban national baseball team, marking the first time a Major League Baseball team played in Cuba since 1959.[41]

At the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, Castro and Clinton spoke briefly at a group photo session and shook hands. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan commented afterwards, "For a U.S. president and a Cuban president to shake hands for the first time in over 40 years—I think it is a major symbolic achievement". While Castro said it was a gesture of "dignity and courtesy", the White House denied the encounter was of any significance.[42] In November 2001, U.S. companies began selling food to the country for the first time since Washington imposed the trade embargo after the revolution. In 2002, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter became the first former or sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928.[43]

Tightening embargo

Relations deteriorated again following the election of George W. Bush. During his campaign Bush appealed for the support of Cuban-Americans by emphasizing his opposition to the government of Fidel Castro and supporting tighter embargo restrictions[44] Cuban Americans, who until 2008 tended to vote Republican,[45] expected effective policies and greater participation in the formation of policies regarding Cuba-U.S. relations.[44] Approximately three months after his inauguration, the Bush administration began expanding travel restrictions. The United States Department of the Treasury issued greater efforts to deter American citizens from illegally traveling to the island.[46] Also in 2001, five Cuban agents were convicted on 26 counts of espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and other illegal activities in the United States. On 15 June 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of their case. Tensions heightened as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John R. Bolton, accused Cuba of maintaining a biological weapons program.[47] Many in the United States, including ex-president Carter, expressed doubts about the claim. Later, Bolton was criticized for pressuring subordinates who questioned the quality of the intelligence John Bolton had used as the basis for his assertion.[48][49] Bolton identified the Castro government as part of America's "axis of evil," highlighting the fact that the Cuban leader visited several U.S. foes, including Libya, Iran and Syria.[50]

Following his 2004 reelection, Bush declared Cuba to be one of the few "outposts of tyranny" remaining in the world.

Billboard opposit USA interest office
Cuban propaganda poster in Havana featuring a Cuban soldier addressing a threatening Uncle Sam. The translation reads: "Imperialist sirs, we have absolutely no fear of you!"

In January 2006, United States Interests Section in Havana began, in an attempt to break Cuba's "information blockade", displaying messages, including quotes from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on a scrolling "electronic billboard" in the windows of their top floor. Following a protest march organized by the Cuban government, the government erected a large number of poles, carrying black flags with single white stars, obscuring the messages.[51]

On 10 October 2006, the United States announced the creation of a task force made up of officials from several U.S. agencies to pursue more aggressively American violators of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, with penalties as severe as 10 years of prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for violators of the embargo.[52]

In November 2006, U.S. Congressional auditors accused the development agency USAID of failing properly to administer its program for promoting democracy in Cuba. They said USAID had channeled tens of millions of dollars through exile groups in Miami, which were sometimes wasteful or kept questionable accounts. The report said the organizations had sent items such as chocolate and cashmere jerseys to Cuba. Their report concluded that 30% of the exile groups who received USAID grants showed questionable expenditures.[53]

After Fidel Castro's announcement of resignation in 2008, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the United States would maintain its embargo.[54]

Vision for "democratic transition"

Rice Cuba Commission
Condoleezza Rice convenes a meeting of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba in December 2005

In 2003, the United States Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba was formed to "explore ways the U.S. can help hasten and ease a democratic transition in Cuba." The commission immediately announced a series of measures that included a tightening of the travel embargo to the island, a crackdown on illegal cash transfers, and a more robust information campaign aimed at Cuba.[28] Castro insisted that, in spite of the formation of the Commission, Cuba is itself "in transition: to socialism [and] to communism" and that it was "ridiculous for the U.S. to threaten Cuba now".[55]

In a 2004 meeting with members of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, President Bush stated, "We're not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom; we are working for the day of freedom in Cuba." The President reaffirmed his commitment to Cuban-Americans just in time for his 2004 reelection with promises to "work" rather than wait for freedom in Cuba.[46]

In April 2006, the Bush administration appointed Caleb McCarry "transition coordinator" for Cuba, providing a budget of $59 million, with the task of promoting the governmental shift to democracy after Castro's death. Official Cuban news service Granma alleges that these transition plans were created at the behest of Cuban exile groups in Miami, and that McCarry was responsible for engineering the overthrow of the Aristide government in Haiti.[56][57]

In 2006, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba released a 93-page report. The report included a plan that suggested the United States spend $80 million to ensure that Cuba's communist system did not outlive the death of Fidel Castro. The plan also featured a classified annex that Cuban officials mistakenly claimed could be a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro or a United States military invasion of Cuba.[58][59]

The "Cuban Thaw"

While relations between Cuba and the United States remained tenuous, by the 2000s, they began to improve. Fidel Castro stepped down from official leadership of the Cuban state and Barack Obama became president of the United States.[60]

Capitolio havana
The Capitolio Nacional in Havana, built in 1929 and said to be modeled on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

In April 2009, Obama, who had received nearly half of the Cuban Americans vote in the 2008 presidential election,[45] began implementing a less strict policy towards Cuba. Obama stated that he was open to dialogue with Cuba, but that he would only lift the trade embargo if Cuba underwent political change. In March 2009, Obama signed into law a congressional spending bill which eased some economic sanctions on Cuba and eased travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans (defined as persons with a relative "who is no more than three generations removed from that person")[61] traveling to Cuba. The April executive decision further removed time limits on Cuban-American travel to the island. Another restriction loosened in April 2009 was in the realm of telecommunications, which would allow quicker and easier access to the internet for Cuba.[62] The loosening of restrictions is likely to help nonprofits and scientists from both countries who work together on issues of mutual concern, such as destruction of shared biodiversity[63] and diseases that affect both populations.[64] At the 2009 5th Summit of the Americas, President Obama signaled the opening of a new beginning with Cuba.[65]

Obama's overtures were reciprocated, to some degree, by new Cuban President Raúl Castro. On 27 July 2012, Raúl Castro said that the Government of Cuba is willing to hold talks with the United States government to "discuss anything".[66] On 10 December 2013, at a state memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shook hands,[67] with Castro saying in English: "Mr. President, I am Castro." Though both sides played down the handshake (much like the Clinton handshake of 2000),[68] an adviser to Obama said that Obama wanted to improve relations with Cuba, yet had concerns about human rights on the island.[69]

Press conference, Havana
US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, in Havana, March 2016. Obama`s visit to Cuba was the first by an American president in more than 80 years.

Beginning in 2013, Cuban and U.S. officials held secret talks brokered in part by Pope Francis and hosted in Canada and Vatican City[70][71][72] to start the process of restoring diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. On 17 December 2014, the framework of an agreement to normalize relations and eventually end the longstanding embargo was announced by Castro in Cuba and Obama in the United States. Cuba and the United States pledged to start official negotiations with the aim of reopening their respective embassies in Havana and Washington.[73] As part of the agreement, aid worker Alan Gross and Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban national working as a U.S. intelligence officer, were released by the Cuban government, which also promised to free an unspecified number of Cuban nationals from a list of political prisoners earlier submitted by the United States. For its part, the U.S. government released the last three remaining members of the Cuban Five. Reaction to this change in policy within the Cuban-American community was mixed,[74][75][76] and Cuban-American senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) all condemned the Obama administration's change in policy.[77][78][79][80][81][82] However, opinion polls indicated the thaw in relations was broadly popular with the American public.[83]

High-level diplomats from Cuba and the United States met in Havana in January 2015. While the talks did not produce a significant breakthrough, both sides described them as "productive", and Cuban Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal said further talks would be scheduled.[84]

Under new rules implemented by the Obama administration, restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba are significantly relaxed as of 16 January 2015, and the limited import of items like Cuban cigars and rum to the United States is allowed, as is the export of American computer and telecommunications technology to Cuba.[85]

On 14 April 2015, the Obama administration announced that Cuba would be removed from the United States "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list. The House and Senate had 45 days from 14 April 2015 to review and possibly block this action,[86] but this did not occur, and on 29 May 2015, the 45 days lapsed, therefore officially removing Cuba from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism.[87][86] On 1 July 2015, President Barack Obama announced that formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States would resume, and embassies would be opened in Washington and Havana.[88] Relations between Cuba and the United States were formally re-established on 20 July 2015, with the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Havana.[89] Barack Obama visited Cuba for three days in March 2016.[90] In August 2016, JetBlue Flight 387 landed in Santa Clara, becoming the first direct commercial flight to travel between the two countries since the early 1960s.[91] On 28 November 2016, the first normally scheduled commercial flight after more than 50 years landed in Havana from Miami on an American Airlines jet.[92]

Trump administration

With the election of Republican Donald Trump as U.S. president, the state of relations between the United States and Cuba was unclear as of January 2017. While a candidate for the presidency, Trump criticized aspects of the Cuban Thaw, suggesting he could suspend the normalization process unless he can negotiate "a good agreement".[93]

On 16 June 2017, President Trump announced that he was suspending what he called a "completely one-sided deal with Cuba". Trump characterized Obama's policy as having granted Cuba economic sanctions relief for nothing in return. Since then, the administration's new policy has aimed to impose new restrictions with regards to travel and funding, however traveling via airlines and cruise lines has not been prohibited completely. Moreover, diplomatic relations remain intact and embassies in Washington D.C. and Havana stay open.[94][95][96]

Health issues of U.S. diplomats in Cuba

In August 2017, reports surfaced that American and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana had experienced unusual physical symptoms affecting the brain—including hearing loss, dizziness, and nausea. American investigators have been unable to identify the cause of these symptoms. In September 2017, the U.S. ordered nonessential diplomats and families out of Cuba as a result of these mysterious health issues.[97][98]

Trade relations

Under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Enhancement Act of 2000, exports from the United States to Cuba in the industries of food and medical products are permitted with the proper licensing and permissions from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the United States Department of the Treasury.[54]

The Obama administration eased specific travel and other restrictions on Cuba in January 2011.[99] A delegation from the United States Congress called on Cuban president Raúl Castro on 24 February 2012 to discuss bilateral relations. The Congress delegation included Patrick Leahy, Democratic Senator from the state of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and Richard Shelby, Republican Senator from the state of Alabama and ranking member of the Committee of Banking, Housing and Urban Matters; they went to Cuba as part of a delegation of Senators and Representatives of the Congress of United States.[100]

Travel and import restrictions imposed by the United States were further relaxed by executive action in January 2015 as part of the Cuban Thaw.[85]

Guantánamo Bay

030104-N-7676W-058 - M60E3 live fire exercise
A U.S. Navy sailor during a live-fire exercise at the Mobile Inshore Underwater Warfare Site (MIUW) at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The U.S. continues to operate a naval base at Guantánamo Bay under a 1903 lease agreement "for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations". The U.S. issues a check to Cuba annually for its lease, but since the revolution, Cuba has cashed only one payment.[101][102] The Cuban government opposes the treaty, arguing that it violates article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, titled "Coercion of a State by the threat or use of force". However, Article 4, titled "Non-retroactivity of the present Convention" of the same document states that Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties shall not be retroactively applied to any treaties made before itself.[103]

The leasing of land like the Guantánamo Bay tract was one of the requirements of the Platt Amendment, conditions for the withdrawal of United States troops remaining in Cuba following the Spanish–American War.

U.S. public opinion on Cuba–United States relations

Over time, the United States' laws and foreign policy regarding Cuba has changed drastically due to strained relationship. Beginning with opposition to the Castro led Independence Revolution in Cuba, the Spanish–American War, naval use of Guantanamo Bay, trade restrictions imposed by Nixon, and a trade embargo opened in the year 2000.

Since the 1990s, American public opinion of Cuba has overall become more favorable, and people became more supportive of ending the trade embargo as well as re-establishing diplomatic ties to Cuba. Gallup's poll that asked, "Is your overall opinion of Cuba very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable or very unfavorable?," began in 1997 with only 10% of people voting favorable, or mostly favorable and in 2015, Cuba's favorability reached 46%, almost half of the population believing Cuba to be very or mostly favorable, the highest percentage since the question has been asked. That question has had a constant rise in favorability, while asking whether or not Cuba was a serious threat had a constant decrease. According to the Roper Center, 68% of people in 1983 viewed Cuba as a serious or moderately serious threat to the United States, while in 2014 only 25% of the American population see Cuba as a threat. In a separate question by Gallup, "Do you favor or oppose re-establishing diplomatic relationships with Cuba?" this question has varied quite a bit over time, reaching its highest 71% in 1999 and most recently 51% in 2015. Data is likely to change more with higher favorability proceeding President Obama's 2016 actions to lift the Cold War embargo policy off of Cuba.

See also


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Further reading

  • Air Force Fellows Program Maxwell AFB. The United States and Cuba – Past, Present and Future (2014) Excerpt
  • Bergad, Laird W. Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States (Cambridge U. Press, 2007). 314 pp.
  • Bernell, David. Constructing US foreign policy: The curious case of Cuba (2012).
  • Freedman, Lawrence. Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (Oxford UP, 2000) Online
  • Grenville, John A. S. and George Berkeley Young. Politics, Strategy, and American Diplomacy: Studies in Foreign Policy, 1873-1917 (1966) pp 179–200 on "The dangers of Cuban independence: 1895-1897"
  • Hernández, Jose M. Cuba and the United States: Intervention and Militarism, 1868–1933 (2013)
  • Horne, Gerald. Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014.
  • LeoGrande, William M. "Enemies evermore: US policy towards Cuba after Helms-Burton." Journal of Latin American Studies 29.1 (1997): 211-221. Online
  • LeoGrande, William M. and Peter Kornbluh. Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. (UNC Press, 2014). ISBN 1469617633
  • Offner, John L. An Unwanted War: The Diplomacy of the United States and Spain over Cuba, 1895–1898 (U of North Carolina Press, 1992) Online; also online free to borrow
  • Jones, Howard. The Bay of Pigs (Oxford University Press, 2008) online
  • Pérez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy (2003) online free to borrow
  • Sáenz, Eduardo, and Rovner Russ Davidson, eds. The Cuban Connection: Drug Trafficking, Smuggling, and Gambling in Cuba from the 1920s to the Revolution (U of North Carolina Press, 2008) online
  • Smith, Wayne. The Closest of Enemies: A Personal and Diplomatic History of the Castro Years (1988), by American diplomat in Havana
  • Welch, Richard E. Response to Revolution: The United States and the Cuban Revolution, 1959–1961 ((U of North Carolina Press, 1985) Online
  • White, Nigel D. "Ending the US embargo of Cuba: international law in dispute." Journal of Latin American Studies 51.1 (2019): 163-186. Online


  • Horowitz, Irving Louis. "One Hundred Years of Ambiguity: US-Cuba Relations in the 20th Century." in Irving Louis Horowitz and Jaime Suchlicki, eds. Cuban Communism, 1959-2003 (11th ed. 2018). 25-33.
  • Pérez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos ((U. of North Carolina Press, 2008). 352 pp

Primary sources

  • Hoff, Rhoda, & Margaret Regler, eds. Uneasy Neighbors: Cuba and the United States (Franklin Watts, 1997) 185 pp. From Columbus to Castro

External links

Americans in Cuba

Americans in Cuba (Spanish: Estadounidenses en Cuba) consist of expatriates and immigrants from the United States as well as Cubans of American descent. As of September 1998, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 Americans living in Cuba.

Army of Cuban Occupation Medal

The Army of Cuban Occupation Medal was a military award created by the United States War Department in June 1915. The medal recognizes those service members who performed garrison occupation duty in the United States Protectorate over Cuba, following the close of the Spanish–American War.

Balseros (film)

Balseros (Spanish: Rafters) is a 2002 Catalan documentary co-directed by Carles Bosch and Josep Maria Domènech about Cubans leaving during the Período Especial.

As a consequence of the widespread poverty that came with the end of economic support from the former USSR, 37,191 Cubans left Cuba in 1994, unimpeded by the Cuban government, using anything they could find or build to get to Florida in the United States. Most left with improvised rafts, which were often not seaworthy, and some even hijacked a ferry.

The documentary consists largely of interviews with the rafters ("Balseros"), over the course of seven years the lives of seven of those refugees, from the building of their rafts to their attempts at building new lives in the United States, giving insight into daily life in Cuba and the US in those days.

The documentary is 2 hours long. The first half is filmed in Cuba, with in the end some scenes of the rafters' months long detention in Guantanamo Bay, where lotteries were used to decide who would be allowed to go to the US. All the while, their families didn't know their whereabouts. The last hour is about the lives of those who got to the USA. These people were filmed again five years later, showing their difficulties adapting to a new type of society and the resulting homesickness, a "human adventure of people who are shipwrecked between two worlds".

Balseros (rafters)

Balseros (Rafters, from the Spanish Balsa Raft) is the name given to the persons who emigrate illegally in self constructed or precarious vessels from Cuba to neighboring states including the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and, most commonly, the United States.

Brigade 2506

Brigade 2506 (Brigada Asalto 2506) was the name given to a CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles formed in 1960 to attempt the military overthrow of the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro. It carried out the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion landings in Cuba on 17 April 1961.

Brothers to the Rescue

Brothers to the Rescue (Spanish: Hermanos al Rescate) is a Miami-based activist nonprofit right wing organization headed by José Basulto. Formed by Cuban exiles, the group is widely known for its opposition to the Cuban government and its former leader Fidel Castro. The group describes itself as a humanitarian organization aiming to assist and rescue raft refugees emigrating from Cuba and to "support the efforts of the Cuban people to free themselves from dictatorship through the use of active non-violence". Brothers to the Rescue, Inc., was founded in May 1991 "after several pilots were touched by the death of" fifteen-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo, who "fleeing Castro's Cuba on a raft, perished of severe dehydration in the hands of U.S. Coast Guard officers who were attempting to save his life.".The Cuban government accuses them of involvement in terrorist acts, and infiltrated the group (see

Juan Pablo Roque and the Wasp Network).

In 1996, after entering Cuban airspace, two Brothers to the Rescue planes were downed by the Cuban Air Force in international airspace as they were returning to Florida. The incident was condemned internationally, including by the UN Security Council while the Cuban government defended the decision claiming the planes were there to destabilize Cuban government.

Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba

The United States Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC) was created by United States President George W. Bush on October 10, 2003 to, according to him, explore ways the U.S. can help hasten and ease a democratic transition in Cuba.

Cuban–American Treaty of Relations (1934)

The Cuban–American Treaty of Relations took effect on June 9, 1934. It abrogated the Treaty of Relations of 1903.

Embassy of Cuba in Washington, D.C.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC, is the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States of America. It is located at 2630 16th Street Northwest, in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. The building was originally constructed in 1917 as the Cuban embassy, and served in that capacity until the United States severed relations with Cuba in 1961.

On July 1, 2015, US President Barack Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The building resumed its role as the Cuban Embassy on July 20, 2015.

Fair Play for Cuba Committee

The Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) was an activist group set up in New York City in April 1960. The FPCC's purpose was to provide grassroots support for the Cuban Revolution against attacks by the United States government, once Fidel Castro began openly admitting his commitment to Marxism and began the expropriation and nationalization of Cuban assets belonging to U.S. corporations. The FPCC opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, the imposition of the United States embargo against Cuba, and was sympathetic to the Cuban view during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Subsidiary Fair Play for Cuba groups were set up throughout the United States and Canada. Among its twenty-nine early notable supporters were William Appleman Williams, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Jean-Paul Sartre, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Waldo Frank, Alan Sagner and Carleton Beals.The FPCC achieved notoriety through the activities of Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans. Oswald would later be known for assassinating President John F. Kennedy.

Vincent T. Lee shut down the national Fair Play for Cuba Committee in December 1963 when its landlord evicted the group from its national office; the notoriety accorded to it, following the Kennedy assassination, made it impossible for the committee to continue its work. The group continued to exist in Canada and still published several pamphlets until late 1964.

FPCC was organized by Robert Bruce Taber in 1960.

Filibuster (military)

A filibuster or freebooter, in the context of foreign policy, is someone who engages in an (at least nominally) unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country or territory to foment or support a revolution. The term is usually used to describe United States citizens who fomented insurrections in Latin America, particularly in the mid-19th century (Texas, California, Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia). Filibuster expeditions have also occasionally been used as cover for government-approved deniable operations.

Filibusters are irregular soldiers who (normally) act without official authority from their own government, and are generally motivated by financial gain, political ideology, or the thrill of adventure. The freewheeling actions of the filibusters of the 1850s led to the name being applied figuratively to the political act of filibustering in the United States Congress.Unlike a mercenary, a filibuster leader/commander works for himself, whilst a mercenary leader works for others.

Jamaican political conflict

The Jamaican political conflict is a long standing feud between right-wing and left-wing elements in the country, often exploding into violence. The Jamaican Labor Party and the People's National Party have fought for control of the island for years and the rivalry has encouraged urban warfare in Kingston. Each side believes the other to be controlled by foreign elements, the JLP is said to be backed by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the PNP is said to been backed by the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro.

John R. Brooke

John Rutter Brooke (July 21, 1838 – September 5, 1926) was one of the last surviving Union generals of the American Civil War when he died at the age of 88.

List of United States citizens granted political asylum in Cuba

This is a list of United States citizens who have been granted political asylum in Cuba.

House Concurrent Resolution 254, passed in 1998, put the number at 90. One estimate, c. 2000, put the number at approximately 100.

List of ambassadors of the United States to Cuba

The United States Ambassador to the Republic of Cuba is the official representative of the President of the United States to the head of state of Cuba, and serves as the head of the Embassy of the United States in Havana. Direct bilateral diplomatic relations did not exist between the two countries from 1961 to 2015. President Dwight D. Eisenhower severed relations following the Cuban Revolution on January 3, 1961. Relations were subsequently restored by Cuban President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama on July 20, 2015.

With the restoration of relations in 2015, the president may nominate an ambassador, though the position has remained vacant since 1960. The embassy is currently run by a Chargé d'affaires ad interim, Mara Tekach. The Chargé d'affaires and the embassy staff at large work in the American Embassy on the Malecón across from the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana, Cuba.

Operation 40

Operation 40 was the code name for a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored counterintelligence group composed of Cuban exiles. The group was formed to seize control of the Cuban government after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Operation 40 continued to operate unofficially until disbanded in 1970 due to allegations that an aircraft that was carrying cocaine and heroin in support of the group crashed in California.It was approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in March 1960, after the January 1959 Cuban Revolution, and was presided over by Vice-president Richard Nixon.

Teller Amendment

The Teller Amendment was an amendment to a joint resolution of the United States Congress, enacted on April 20, 1898, in reply to President William McKinley's War Message. It placed a condition on the United States military's presence in Cuba. According to the clause, the U.S. could not annex Cuba but only leave "control of the island to its people." In short, the U.S. would help Cuba gain independence and then withdraw all its troops from the country.

United States Military Government in Cuba

The United States Military Government in Cuba (Spanish: Gobierno militar estadounidense en Cuba or Gobierno militar americano en Cuba), was a provisional military government in Cuba that was established in the aftermath of the Spanish–American War in 1898 when Spain ceded Cuba to the United States.

This period was also referred to as the First Occupation of Cuba, to distinguish it from a second occupation from 1906 to 1909. United States Army forces involved in the garrisoning of the island during this time were honored with the Army of Cuban Occupation Medal after its establishment in 1915.

United States Senate Committee on Cuban Relations

The United States Senate Committee on Cuban Relations was formed following the Spanish–American War, in 1899. The Committee was terminated, along with many others, in 1921.

Cuba Cuba–United States relations United States
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