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. However, as Castro’s regime increased trade with the Soviet Union, nationalized U.S.-owned properties, and hiked taxes on American imports, the United States responded with escalating economic retaliation and ultimately enforcing a full economic embargo.
U.S. domestic politics in the United States long made a U.S.-Cuba détente politically risky. The Cuban-American community in southern Florida traditionally influenced U.S. policy toward Cuba, and both Republicans and Democrats have feared alienating a strong voting bloc in an important swing state in presidential elections.
On April 11, 2015, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. The meeting came four months after the presidents announced their countries would restore ties. Successive U.S. administrations have maintained a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. The change in the countries’ relations, initially marked by a prisoner swap and Havana’s release of a jailed U.S. contractor, prompted some experts to point to better prospects for Cuba’s economy and U.S. relations more broadly in Latin America. But the U.S. trade embargo, which requires congressional approval to be rescinded, is unlikely to be lifted any time soon.
*Excerpts taken from The Council of Foreign Relations
- Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Roman Catholic Church
- Marili Cancio, Cancio Johnson Attorneys at Law
- Michael Putney, WPLG Local 10