By Anayat Durrani
Dec. 8, 2009
The Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cuban Trade Embargo. These are all major footnotes in the nearly five decades of virtually non-existent relations between the United States and Cuba; however, that all appears to be changing. Under the Obama administration, there are signs that the once-strained relationship between the two nations is beginning to thaw.
President Obama entered office with the goal of making American diplomacy a top priority. Cuba, which is less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida, has been high on his agenda. On April 14, 2009, during his first 100 days, Obama lifted the ban on Americans visiting relatives in Cuba, lessened restrictions on money transfers to relatives in Cuba, and allowed U.S. telecommunications companies to conduct business there. These decisions were enacted on the eve of Obama's first trip to Latin America and his attendance of the Fifth Summit of the Americas. Obama declared at the Summit that the U.S. seeks a "new beginning" with Cuba, adding that this will require "a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust."
On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba to overthrow the dictatorship government of President General Fulgencio Batista. Relations with Cubans quickly soured as Castro seized private land, nationalized American businesses and heavily taxed American products. The U.S. broke diplomatic relations with the Cubans in 1961. Then, in 1962, the U.S. imposed an economic embargo on Cuba as the country embraced communism and allied with Russia during the Cold War.
During this period, two events had a lasting impact on U.S.-Cuba relations: the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1961, U.S.-trained Cuban-Americans invaded the Bay of Pigs in southern-Cuba in a failed attempt to topple the Cuban government. Then, in October 1962, Cuba attempted to allow the Soviet Union to base nuclear missiles close to the U.S. mainland, nearly starting a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis marked a frightening moment in American-Cuban relations.
For nearly half a century, the U.S. has remained unchanged in its policy toward-Cuba. Now, the Obama administration advocates a policy of "renewed diplomacy" with friends and foes of the United States, including Cuba. Could Americans see a renewed relationship between the two nations? Since 1999, a majority of Americans have consistently said they favor re-establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with-Cuba, and according to Gallup, 60% support Obama's decision to ease some restrictions. Since Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, tourism by U.S. residents has surged, according to Cuban tour operator Havanatur, which operates flights into Havana.
There is a now a move to lift all travel restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to-Cuba and legislation has been introduced in Congress. This past March, several supporters unveiled a Senate Bill to lift the travel ban to-Cuba. A sponsor of the bill, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a draft report in February calling for a reconsideration of the economic sanctions on-Cuba. The Senate Bill, as well as a companion House Bill, are within striking distance of obtaining the votes needed to pass.
The head of the >U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donahue, says lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba could yield economic opportunities for both American and Cuban workers. It also could give U.S. businesses opportunities to sell agricultural and manufactured goods to Cuba and develop offshore oil fields that might otherwise be taken by other countries. Donahue believes that improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba will help bring democracy to the communist nation. Opponents and Cuban-American representatives in Congress say increased revenue from tourism and trade would only bolster the government of Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over for brother Fidel in 2006.
The Obama administration has said it has no plans to lift the embargo, which bans nearly all trade with Cuba, but it would like to pursue dialogue with the Cold War-era enemy. Obama has urged Cuba to take the next step by releasing political prisoners and increasing political freedom. Castro has stated his willingness to negotiate with the U.S. on all issues, including freedom of the press, human rights and the 205 political prisoners that human rights groups claim Cuba is improperly detaining. While this is not the first time Castro has expressed interest in talks with the U.S., it is the first time Cuba has agreed to negotiate on sensitive subjects like its human rights record.
Anayat Durrani is a freelance journalist with a master's degree in journalism and international relations. Her articles have been featured in many publications, including California Lawyer magazine, Plaintiff magazine and Lawcrossing.com.
Steve Clemons, "Howard Berman/Richard Lugar Bipartisan Team Call for End to Cuba Travel Ban," TheHuffingtonPost.com (Nov. 17, 2009).