U.S./Cuba Relations Now
Relations between the U.S. and Cuba might be described as one of the longest lasting grudges in political history. After nearly 55 years, the two countries are making strides to reconcile, or at the very least, communicate civilly.
The country’s riffs span back to 1898 after the end of the Spanish/American war. After a defeated Spain signed rights to Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba to the U.S., Cuba was granted its independence with the agreement that the U.S. could intervene if necessary.
In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the government of President General Fulgencio Batista, and soon after, Castro had nationalized hundreds of private companies. He began taxing American products so heavily that U.S. exports were halved in about two years.
After Castro decided to expand trade with the Soviet Union in 1962, President Kennedy issued a permanent embargo. Within a few years, Cuba, whose economy relied heavily on American products, began to deteriorate. That same year, when the U.S. discovered that the Soviet Union was building missile bases in Cuba, an event known as the Cuban Missile Crisis heightened the poor relations between the two countries. Cuba and the U.S. have communicated via Switzerland ever since.
On Sunday, March 20, President Obama arrived in Havana for what was called a historic visit — Obama being the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years. Upon his arrival, according to NBC News, Cubans lined the streets in hopes of seeing President Obama. Some locals spoke about his visit, one saying to an NBC reporter that “the Cuban people admire him for his bravery.”
According to ap.org, the President’s visit was highly anticipated in Cuba. Workers were said to have been cleaning the streets and painting buildings in anticipation of the President’s arrival. In parts of the country’s capital, American flags were raised in conjunction with Cuban flags, a site that even 20 years prior would have been unlikely.
During his visit, President Obama met with President Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution. One of the big topics of discussion was human rights, an issue that Obama and Castro still don’t quite see eye-to-eye on. President Obama spoke on his view of human rights, saying, “I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights,” according to NBC News. Castro responded by noting that Cuba “opposes political manipulation and double standards in the approach to human rights.”
While many topics weren’t necessarily agreed upon or resolved — areas like freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, President Obama did point out subjects the country connected on like travel, trade, agriculture and the Internet. Over the course of the president’s three-day visit, a few social events accentuated social areas; a baseball game, the Tampa Bay Rays versus the Havana National team, and a Rolling Stones concert to cap out the historic visit.
Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former president, wrote a response to Obama’s visit to Cuba in a letter titled, “Brother Obama,” in Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper. According to The New York Times, the nearly 1,600-word letter reviewed the history between the two countries, including the economic embargo that is still in effect today. In the letter, Castro criticized the country’s political class, including his brother and current president of Cuba, Raúl Castro.
Fidel Castro, who is now 89 years old, is still quite influential in the Communist Party, despite his retirement. Castro hasn’t been seen in public since the summer of 2015, and absent for the entirety of Obama’s visit.
Many critics noted how age played a role in comparing the two leaders, in all respects. President Obama, who is known for his appeal to youth and generational change, utilized that appeal while in Cuba. According to The New York Times, at his speech to the Cuban people at the Grand Theater, Obama presented a generational argument, noting the importance and relevance of the Internet and how it can expose readers to different points of view, allowing them to reach their full potential.
In the same speech, Obama reverberated the point that seemed to be the banner tagline of his visit, “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.”