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Summary Article: Cuba, U.S. Relations with
From Encyclopedia of United States - Latin American Relations
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In the early twenty-first century, with its focus upon global terrorism and economic globalization, Cuba appears as a secondary issue to U.S. people and policymakers alike. The exceptions would be largely among the elder members of the Cuban American communities in south Florida, northern New Jersey, and northwest Indiana. To these people the aged Castro brothers who govern the island deserve nothing less than a vengeful retribution for forcing them to leave the homeland with the advent of Castro's revolution in 1959. For thirty-two years of the forty-six years of the Cold War, Cuban Americans received a sympathetic ear among U.S. policymakers. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of communism dissipated and North American interest in Cuba's geopolitical importance waned.

Long before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, however, Cuba occupied an important place in U.S. policy. A 745-mile-long island, Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean Sea, with the Atlantic Ocean to its north. It is separated from the United States by ninety miles of waters known as the Florida Straits that provide direct passage into the Gulf of Mexico and washes ashore from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula westward past Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana at Texas, and again southward to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Between Cuba's most eastern point and Haiti's most western point is the Windward Passage that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, a body of water that borders the southern shores of the Yucatán Peninsula southward along the coast of all Central American states, except El Salvador, then east to Colombia and Venezuela, then north and westward back to Cuba. The Windward Passage is in the direct path of shipping between the Panama Canal the eastern seaboard of the United States. Strategically located, Cuba is important to the flow of U.S. commerce, to its circum-Caribbean security interests, and to the movement of its naval ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

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The map and key above show the Soviet missile sites in Cuba that nearly sparked a nuclear war in 1962. The map also shows the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, the Isle of Pines (a source of dispute after Cuban independence), and Mariel, the originating point from which approximately 125,000 refugees were allowed to leave, by Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1980.

Colonial Period

On his first voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus waded upon the Cuban shore on October 28, 1492, sailed along its southern shore during his second visit in 1494, and reported it to be a peninsula of the Asian mainland. Only after his son Diego conquered the territory in 1509 was Cuba recognized as an island. Over the next two centuries Cuba became an important piece of its New World empire. Its tobacco and sugar made their way into the European markets and the latter in the North American colonies. The city at Havana developed into a major port of call as the last stop for ship supplies for those vessels sailing back to Europe, just as the Windward Passage that sat between eastern Cuba and Haiti served as a major entry point for ships entering the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

Because Cuba remained a Spanish colony and in theory closed to trade with the outside world, the value of its clandestine trade with the United States is unknown. From these contacts North Americans came to understand that Spain tightly controlled local government through Spanish-born (peninsulares) administrators appointed by the government in Madrid at the expense of Cuban-born whites (criollos), who operated most of the agricultural land, the merchant houses, and small businesses that contributed to the vibrancy of Havana and smaller towns across the island. At the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid were the African slaves, free blacks and their descendents, who not only lacked civil and political rights, but with few exceptions, personal freedom. In addition to these colonial traits, informed North Americans and Cubans understood that their relationship was impacted oftentimes by events beyond their control, such as the British occupation of Havana in 1762 and 1763, the American Revolution from 1776 until 1783, and Toussaint L'Ouverture's successful 1791 revolt in Haiti.

Cuba remained impervious to the winds of revolution that swept across Central and South America in the early part of the nineteenth century. The peninsulare administrators and military remained loyal to the Spanish system. Despite their differences with the peninsulare class, the criollo sugar growers and refiners still benefitted from the Spanish mercantile system. Both groups had a special interest in maintaining the rigid social structure. As their counterparts from the mainland flocked to Havana during Latin America's independence movements in the early nineteenth century, and brought with them stories of violence, destruction, economic ruin, and the calamity caused in ending lower class restraints, this only reinforced island residents' belief that life was better under the Spanish flag. When Latin America completed its independence in 1826, only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under Spanish control. The legacies from three hundred years of colonial experiences would have a long-lasting effect on the United States-Cuban relationship.

Precarious beginnings: Theearly Nineteenth Century

Thomas Jefferson, who maintained that the United States would someday acquire Cuba, instructed U.S. consuls in Havana to watch for political events that might indicate a Cuban desire for a union. In 1809 he dispatched General James Wilkerson to Cuba to sound out Spanish authorities and others opposed to Joseph Bonaparte sitting on the Spanish throne about linking Cuba to the United States. Yet in October 1808, Jefferson's cabinet refused a proposal from a Cuban delegation to Washington requesting annexation to the United States. Jefferson recognized that the peninsulares and criollos were badly split over their loyalty to Spain and that it was best not to inject the United States into the argument. Before leaving office Jefferson advised incoming President James Madison to grant Napoleon a free hand in all the colonies of Spanish America in return for ceding Cuba to the United States. Madison rejected the advice.

Madison did fear, however, that the British-French conflict raging at the time might spread to the Caribbean and leave one of these powers in control of Cuba. Rumors in 1817 and 1818 asserted that Britain intended to occupy the island, and this increased pressure upon the new president, James Monroe, to annex Cuba. On the advice of his cabinet, the president begged off because the effort would jeopardize negotiations with Spain over the U.S. acquisition of Florida. Still, like his predecessor, Monroe dispatched an emissary to Cuba, New England businessman William Shaler, who reported that the criollos were widely split regarding their loyalty to Spain. And like his predecessor, Monroe rejected a secret proposal for the U.S. annexation of the island from a group of dissident Cuban criollo planters.

U.S. policy took a definitive stance following an 1821 criollo uprising against Spanish authority that threatened to escalate into a racial war with blacks, both free and slave. The uprising prompted a debate within Monroe's administration. Secretary of War and South Carolinian John C. Calhoun favored annexation on the grounds that a black Cuba would prevent any future U.S. annexation and that it would incite black uprisings across the U.S. south. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams argued otherwise. He claimed that the criollo leadership would be equally inept and result in constant racial conflict that would prompt British and/or French intervention to protect their Caribbean interests. Furthermore any British intervention could translate into a threat against U.S. security. Adams concluded that Spain's archaic rule over Cuba, rather than Cuba's independence, better served U.S. interests. The secretary prevailed and Adams' reasoning became the basis of U.S. policy toward Cuba until the century's end. British Foreign Minister Lord George Canning shared Adams' opinions, and in 1825, he wanted to form a tripartite pact to guarantee Spain's control over Cuba. Adams, then president, deferred to the policies of Washington and Jefferson of no permanent or entangling alliances. For the moment the Monroe Doctrine that declared the western hemisphere off limits to European colonization sufficed.

Over the next generation domestic issues on both sides of the Florida Straits contributed to little more than the usual discussions about Spanish imposed taxes and other fees on commerce between the United States and Cuba. With a high degree of nationalistic rhetoric, the North Americans argued about the merits and demerits of continuing the National Bank, the building of roads with federal monies, and the panic (recession) of 1837. In Cuba Spain continued to tighten its administrative control much to the dislike of the criollos, while the tobacco and sugar plantations continued to prosper. In both places, however, the slavery issue continued to simmer, more open in Cuba than the United States. Slave revolts were more common in the former, while testy rhetoric on the immorality of slavery and the underground railroad characterized the latter.

Between 1800 and 1840 Cuba became a sugar monoculture. That year it accounted for nearly 60 percent of Cuba's export earnings, with the United States the largest importer. The number of U.S. ships arriving in Cuba rose from 150 in 1796 to slightly over 1,500 in 1840. In turn the Cubans imported staves, barrels, hoops, nails, textiles, fish, salt, corn, flour, and rice from the United States. U.S. manufactures, such as iron-based products, provided the essential equipment for the ever expanding number of sugar refining mills. The expansion of sugar production also required a drastic increase in the labor force. It came in the form of African slaves. The number of slaves in Cuba rose from 85,000 in 1792 to 287,000 in 1827 to 436,000 in 1840, or approximately 45 percent of the Cuban population. A second demographic change fostered by the sugar expansion was the emergence of an entire new class of criollo landowners, who were at odds with the peninsulare government class and Madrid's rules of trade that they were sent to enforce. These economic and demographic changes would continue to intensify and eventually have serious repercussions in Cuban-U.S. relations.

Long before coming to the presidency in 1845, Democrat James K. Polk supported John Quincy Adams' “hands off” policy toward Cuba, but President Polk confronted an ever increasing southern demand for the annexation of Cuba, an intensity that deepened when the southerners learned that the land acquired from Mexico in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo would not support a slave-based economy. This in turn would have an adverse impact upon the south's representation in the national Congress. Polk, who was committed to purchasing Cuba, took the issue up with his cabinet in May and June 1848. In the end Polk's offer of $100 million to Spain was quickly rejected. The Madrid government informed the president that it would rather see Cuba sink into the sea than in North American hands.

After a four-year interlude the expansionist Democrats returned to the White House with the election of Franklin Pierce, who quickly set out to purchase Cuba. For that purpose southerner Pierre Soulé was dispatched to Madrid, but before arriving there, he met secretly with the U.S. ministers to London and Paris, James Buchanan and John Mason, respectively, in Ostend, Belgium, to discuss the matter and report back to Secretary of State William L. Marcy. They agreed that the United States should offer up to $120 million for Cuba and, if the Madrid government refused, take every measure necessary to gain control of the island from Spain. The Ostend Manifesto, though really a diplomatic dispatch and not a manifesto, became public before it reached Secretary Marcy in Washington in November 1854. The clamorous and critical public reaction in Europe and the United States stymied the initiative to acquire Cuba.

The Pierce administration also faced a potential filibuster expedition from the United States. John A. Quitman, former governor of Mississippi, planned an invasion of Cuba that would coincide with a criollo uprising and result in the island's annexation to the United States. Quitman, however, aborted the plan after Pierce announced that his administration would strictly enforce the nation's neutrality laws and the Spanish crushed the criollo uprising in February 1855.

During the time the United States maneuvered to acquire Cuba, a Cuban insurrectionist, Narciso López, led three attempts between 1848 and 1851, to drive the Spanish from Cuba. Lopez was a one-time, Spanish-appointed official in Cuba who amassed a variety of landholdings and mining interests. Initially López aligned himself with criollos in Havana and New York, who favored annexation to the United States in hopes of preserving Cuba's orderly social and economic structures without the Spaniards. On his last expedition in April 1851, López and his forces fell before the Spanish troops and López and one hundred of his surviving men were taken to Havana for summary trials and executions.

Cuban Wars for Independence

Subsequently the Cuban issue became secondary to the domestic problems the United States confronted over slavery in the western territories and its four-year Civil War (1861–1865). But not so in Cuba where the criollos, mostly associated with sugar and its refining and ancillary businesses, became increasingly disgruntled with Spanish discriminations and the fear of a potentially free slave population. The disconnect with Spain finally erupted into the Ten Years' War (1868 to 1878). The war cost an estimated two hundred thousand lives and property damages estimated at $700 million. In the Treaty of Zanjón that ended the conflict, Spain promised administrative reforms, amnesty for the rebels, and emancipation of all slaves. Although slavery ended in Cuba in 1886, the Afro-Cubans remained tied to the plantation economy. Spain failed to deliver on the other reforms, causing continued Cuban criollo discontent with Spanish authority.

The war had other far-reaching effects on the development of Cuban society. It not only decimated the criollo class, but it opened the door to U.S. entrepreneurs. They filled the vacuum created by the ruin of the criollo aristocracy and the bankruptcy of Spanish interests. In the 1880s thousands of North Americans accompanied their investment dollars to the island to run the sugar plantations, mills and refineries, and merchant houses. By the mid-1880s an estimated $50 million was poured into Cuba by U.S. private investors. These trends contributed to Cuba's increased economic dependence on the United States. By 1895 Cuba ranked third behind Britain and Germany in exports to the United States. The U.S. market accounted for 87 percent of the Cuban exports. During this same time period, from 1878 to 1895, Cuban intellectuals, at home and abroad, increasingly blamed Spain for their poverty and the island's underdevelopment and unrest.

By the latter part of the 1880s many North American leaders throughout society accepted the “large policy” advocated by expansionists. The policy called for the need for markets, raw materials, and strategic ports, the need to improve the quality of life of “backward” peoples, and in anticipation of a transisthmian canal, the need to secure entrances into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Cuba fell into the purview of the “large policy.” Its ample ports provided jump-off points for trade throughout the Caribbean and on to South America. Having endured nearly four hundred years of Spanish mismanagement, Cuba could become an object lesson for the implementation of U.S.-styled democracy in the underdeveloped world. These factors converged in the North American mindset by the time the Cuban War for Independence began on March 25, 1895.

The lack of leadership stymied the Cuban effort for independence during the 1880s. That changed in 1892 when José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party (CRP). With generous financial support from Cuban exiles, Martí prepared to liberate Cuba from Spanish authority. The conflict began on March 25, 1895. Despite Martí's death on May 19, 1895, his generals continued the fight. By the end of 1895 the rebels were at the gates of Havana and the Spanish army had a new general, Valierano Weyler, who soon found himself engaged in a guerrilla war against the rebels. Weyler's brutal tactics included reconcentrados, camps where entire villages were placed. Camp conditions were atrocious. Inadequate facilities, insufficient food supplies, and poor sanitation and medical conditions brought death to thousands of camp inhabitants. The cost to Spain in lives and money prompted an outcry to end the war in late 1897, but the Cubans rejected the offer of home rule within the empire.

Weyler's tactics also contributed to a popular moral crusade across North America, advanced by the “yellow press,” to rid the island of brutal Spanish authority and replace it with a U.S.-style democracy. Advocates of the “large policy,” who recognized Cuba's geostrategic importance, and defense strategists, who anticipated the American constructed and owned transisthmian canal, were soon joined by business groups, who anticipated opportunities on the island. Racists stood in opposition, arguing that the Afro-Cubans, mestizos, mulattos, and other mixed bloods were incompatible with North American society and values and could not be uplifted. Isolationists protested against any venture into the larger world, fearful of a European reaction.

Amidst this emotional and public debate, in the early evening of February 16, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor, killing 266 men. Only years later did a naval commission confirm that an explosion in the ship's engine room, not a torch by either loyalist or rebel forces, caused the tragedy. It mattered little; the United States marched toward war. On April 11, 1898, President McKinley asked for authorization to use military force to bring the Cuban situation to a conclusion. Congress obliged on April 19. When the president signed the declaration of war on April 25, war was declared to have existed since April 21. The declaration included the Teller Amendment that prevented the United States from annexing Cuba and sanctified its occupation only for the time necessary to put a functioning government in place. Any U.S. economic designs upon Cuba were checked by the Foraker Amendment that denied the occupying U.S. military government from granting any concessions for any business, mining, or infrastructure pursuits during the period of occupation. From all appearances the United States embarked on a moral crusade.

The U.S. portion of the war was short, technically four months. Hostilities officially ended in a White House ceremony on August 12, 1898. The U.S. suffered more casualties from yellow fever than in battle. Peace negotiations began in Paris on October 1 and the final accord, signed on December 10, 1898, granted to the United States the Philippine Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, but the latter for only long enough to prepare it for independence. In addition Spain absorbed Cuba's $400 million debt, giving the new nation the opportunity to start with a clean slate.

The U.S. military occupation of Cuba began January 1, 1899, and lasted until May 20, 1902. First under the direction of General John R. Brooke and subsequently General Leonard Wood, the U.S. military directed sweeping infrastructure, and sanitation and health programs, including the containment of the deadly yellow fever disease. U.S.-based education and judicial systems were introduced. But when it came to implementing a democratic government, Wood, his advisors, and Washington, D.C., policymakers concluded that the legacies of four hundred years of Spanish occupation left the masses of Cubans, meaning Afro-Cubans, incapable of understanding, much less practicing, the principles of democratic government. While the criollos were capable, they would need long-term supervision, a conclusion that led Wood to insure that the “better classes” controlled government and for U.S. policymakers to grant Cuba its independence in 1902 only if the Platt Amendment became part of the Cuban constitution. The Cuban ruling class paid a heavy price. It reluctantly accepted the Platt Amendment that granted the United States control over its fiscal and monetary matters and foreign policy, limited its international debt, and granted the right to intervene when political stability was threatened.

From Independenceto Revolution: 1902–1959

U.S. policy toward Cuba paralleled its circum-Caribbean policy for the first thirty years of the twentieth century. It sought to bring democratic government to countries plagued by the legacies of Spanish colonialism. Government instability in one country could spill over into another; fiscal irresponsibility made possible foreign intervention to collect debts. In both instances the security of the Panama Canal was at stake. Despite the work of Charles Magoon and Enoch Crowder, the United States achieved little in Cuba by 1920. And like other U.S. interventions in the Caribbean—the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua—the U.S. search for political and fiscal stability provoked a sense of anti-American nationalism. Economic investments were one area where the North Americans did succeed. By the mid-1920s in Cuba, not only did the United States consume the majority of Cuban sugar and supply the island with almost all of its consumer goods, U.S. investors poured nearly $150 million into Cuban infrastructure: railroads, ports, warehouses, communications, water and sewerage, and tourism.

So pervasive was the U.S. presence in the Cuban economy that historian Leland Jenks entitled his 1928 book Our Cuban Colony. Clearly, on the eve of the Great Depression, Cuba had become economically dependent upon the United States, which, for all intents and purposes, appeared to support Cuba's established order. Cuban President Gerardo Machado acknowledged as much, when, at the 1928 Inter-American conference meeting in Havana, he spoke about the good that U.S. presence had done for Cuban development. Machado stood alone, however.

Other Latin American states spoke against U.S. interventionist policy at three other Inter-American conferences during the 1920s. A new generation of Cubans came of age during the 1920s, questioning not only the island's elite rulers but also the U.S. relationship. Their protests permeated Machado's presidency and contributed to his ouster in 1933. The call for withdrawal was equally widespread in the United States. The State Department recognized its failure to democratize the Caribbean nations. The Commerce Department argued that withdrawal from the region would contribute to an increase in hemispheric trade.

The lack of a European threat and the Democratic party's critique of intervention, together with these failures, contributed to President-elect Herbert Hoover's 1928 goodwill trip to Latin America and J. Rueben Clark's Memorandum on the Monroe Doctrine that denounced the Doctrine's Roosevelt Corollary. All of this led to the Good Neighbor policy enunciated by Secretary of State Cordell Hull at the Seventh International Conference of American States, meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 1933. Ironically the new U.S. policy was announced between the military's installation of socialist Ramón Grau Martín on September 10, 1933, and his ouster by the military on January 14, 1934. Army Sergeant Fulgencio Batista installed the socialist Grau Martín in Cuba's presidential palace, and with encouragement and approval from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's special emissary, Sumner Welles, and minister, Jefferson Caffrey, removed Grau Martín from office. From 1934 until his own election in 1940, Batista manipulated the presidency to his own advantage. He oversaw the writing of a new constitution in 1940, considered the most progressive in Latin America at the time. Batista curried favor with the United States, signing a Reciprocal Trade Treaty and agreeing to abrogate the Platt Amendment in 1934 and being one of the few to support the U.S. search for prewar hemispheric defense. When war erupted on December 7, 1941, Batista became an ardent supporter of the Allied cause and gave the United States free use of its territory for defense purposes. Economically the Cuban sugar growers benefitted immensely. With other sources of raw sugar—Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, and Southeast Asia were lost to the battlefield—the United States annually purchased the entire Cuban sugar crop for distribution to the Allied countries.

But all was not well in Cuba. As world sugar supplies returned to the global market in 1947 and 1948, the global demand for Cuban sugar significantly dropped. Rather than accept a series of U.S. grants and loans to diversify the Cuban economy, the sugar growers, refiners, and those in ancillary enterprises joined with communist national representatives to reject the U.S. largesse with assertions that it was just another way for the United States to assert its control over Cuba. The ever growing middle sector that benefitted from U.S. economic presence increasingly demanded honest elections, a free and democratic government and justice system, and an end to corruption, all legitimate. After 1948 the public outcry against the self-serving elitist government intensified. Fearing government collapse and possible anarchy, a group of army officers persuaded Batista to return to Cuba from Daytona Beach, Florida, where he had gone following the 1944 presidential contest. When Batista recognized that he could not win the 1954 presidential election, he engineered a coup d'état on March 10, 1952. He instituted six years of autocratic and brutal rule that sent Cuba down the road to revolution. The U.S. embassy in Havana reported on these events, but little more.

The Era of the Cubanrevolution, 1959-Present

When the Eisenhower administration began in January 1953, Cuba was no more than a distant concern. The administration sought only to maintain Cuba's share of the sugar quota as a means to stave off political instability. Arthur Gardner, a political appointee, served as U.S. ambassador to Cuba during Eisenhower's first presidential term. He established a close and friendly relationship with Batista and ignored the State Department's instructions to establish contacts with his opponents. Gardner and his embassy staff consistently underestimated Fidel Castro's significance and the extent of the opposition to Batista. Others shared Gardner's positive view of Batista, including Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who, during his visit to Havana in February 1955, publically compared Batista to Abraham Lincoln and reported to Eisenhower that Castro was a remarkable man interested solely in Cuba's development. A Wall Street banker with no international experience, Earl E. T. Smith replaced Gardner in June 1957. He mistrusted the embassy staff and, fearing a public rebuke from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, prevented critical analysis of Batista from reaching the State Department.

Meanwhile Castro continued to make strides and appeared to have a large and vibrant fighting force, as his interviews in February 1958 with New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews revealed. The Cuban response to the Matthews' interviews startled the unprepared Washington policymakers. Eisenhower responded by cutting Cuba from the U.S. Military Assistance Program (MAP). But Smith refused the State Department's instructions to establish contact with moderate opposition groups and, until his resignation in January 1959, he continued to identify Castro as a communist. After March 1958 opposition to Batista intensified and became violent, particularly Batista's punishment of dissidents, real or imagined. By December 1958 Batista's demise was apparent, but Eisenhower hoped to save the country from Castro when he dispatched William Pawley on a secret mission to Havana. When Batista refused to compromise, the United States stepped away. Isolated and devoid of support, in the early morning hours of January 1, 1959, Batista, along with several close advisors, fled to the Dominican Republic.

During the two remaining years of the Eisenhower administration, events on both sides of the Florida Straits led U.S. policymakers to conclude that Castro was indeed a communist and that he stood as a threat to western hemispheric security. This premise became the basis of U.S. policy toward Cuba for the next 50 years.

During his visit to the United States in April 1959, Castro announced that Cuba would be open to all and not reliant upon one country; he promised democracy with opportunity for all, along with economic and social development. Castro met privately with Vice President Nixon, who could not determine if Castro was a communist but said that he was naïve enough to fall victim to it. For sure Castro's actions on the island defied his rhetoric. Batistianos and other members of the Cuban elite were immediately executed after mock trials; elections were postponed, Castro consolidated his political power, rents and salaries came under government control, and agricultural lands were confiscated. For sure Castro established a brutal dictatorship, but events in 1960 made him a communist in the eyes of U.S. policymakers. On February 4, 1960, Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Havana to open an exposition of Soviet consumer goods, but in reality he came to conclude a trade agreement with the Cuban government. The agreement provided Cuba with a twelve-year $100 million credit to purchase Soviet-made consumer items, construction materials, and machinery. In return the Soviets agreed to purchase five million tons of Cuban sugar for five years.

U.S. policymakers and the public recoiled at the Soviet presence. In the spring of 1960 U.S. policy response hardened. In March Eisenhower gave the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) permission to plan for training a Cuban-exile brigade to invade the island. The belief was that a popular uprising against Castro would follow. John F. Kennedy learned of the plan following his November 1960 presidential election. He hesitantly approved the plan only a month before the April 1961 invasion and when it took place, he failed to approve the necessary protective air cover; without it, the invasion quickly collapsed. The international prestige that the Bay of Pigs fiasco cost Kennedy in 1961 was regained as a result of the October 1962 missile crisis. The Soviets placed intermediate range missiles in Cuba beginning in June 1962, not to defend Cuba as Castro believed, but to gain a sense of geopolitical balance with the United States. Premier Nikita Khrushchev reasoned that Soviet missiles within striking range of major U.S. east coast cities counterbalanced the U.S. missiles in western Europe aimed at the Soviet Union. Castro learned a harsh lesson when the Soviet missiles were withdrawn. Cuba was little more than a pawn between the Cold War superpowers. As a result Castro distanced himself from Moscow until the near collapse of the Cuban economy in 1968. Kennedy, however, remained fixated on the Cuban leader and sought his removal through attempting assassination, the undermining of his authority, destroying his public image, and attempting to destroy the Cuban economy under Operation Mongoose, a CIA-implemented operation. President Lyndon B. Johnson cancelled the operation in 1964.

Eisenhower's second policy initiative took place in public—the Congress—during the spring of 1960. Congressional representatives expressed vehement opposition to Castro and, like members of the administration, argued that the island's economic strangulation would bring the desired political change. Toward that end congress approved the Sugar Act of 1960 that continued to secure a special place in the U.S. sugar market for another year, but with the proviso that the president could adjust the quota as the situation demanded. That “situation” came on June 29, 1960, when Castro, as he promised if the Sugar Act became U.S. law, nationalized U.S.-owned oil companies. A week later, on July 6, Eisenhower embargoed Cuban sugar for the remainder of the year. In turn Castro continued the nationalization of U.S. businesses. In response Eisenhower imposed a total embargo, except for food and medicine, on October 19, 1960. And before leaving office on January 20, 1961, Eisenhower severed U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba. President Kennedy tightened the embargo with restrictions on travel and monetary remittances to the island. Responding to an anti-Castro public groundswell, Congress cooperated with legislation on September 4, 1960, that imposed a total trade embargo. Kennedy persuaded western European allies to curtail their shipping to Cuba and for Japan to find other sources to satisfy its demand for sugar. Finally, as a Marxist or Communist state, Kennedy made Cuba ineligible for assistance under the Alliance for Progress. President Lyndon B. Johnson continued the hard line when, in July 1964, he persuaded the Organization of American States (OAS) to expel Cuba and shut down trade with the island. He was not as successful in persuading western European allies to further curtail their shipping to Cuba. Still the measures had their cumulative effect, and when combined with Ernesto “Che” Guevara's failed economic policy, the Cuban economy faced total collapse by 1970.

Other factors contributed to a changing global policy toward Cuba. It's economic weakness spoke for itself and contributed to international criticism of the U.S. embargo. The war in Vietnam not only resulted in criticism of U.S. involvement both home and abroad but opened the debate about the righteousness of wars of national liberation, including Cuba. President Richard M. Nixon's visits to China and the Soviet Union in 1972, coupled with his disinterest in Latin America, contributed to changes in policy toward Cuba. The western Europeans expanded their trade; Japan, India, and Southeast Asian nations soon followed. Between 1971 and 1975 several Latin American nations ended their Cuban embargo and welcomed Cuba into Latin American economic organizations. Finally, at the 1975 OAS meeting in San José, Costa Rica, the hemispheric trade ban on Cuba was lifted, leaving each nation free to pursue its own course. Although the United States approved the measure, it continued its own embargo that remains in effect today. In fact George W. Bush further tightened the embargo in 2004, only to have restrictions on U.S. travel and remittances to Cuba loosened by President Barack Obama in 2010 and 2011.

Other significant bilateral issues included the migration of Cuban people to the United States. Initially the outmigration was dominated by the Cuban elite and middle sectors, who opposed the revolution. But Castro controlled the escape valve. Following the exodus of an estimated five thousand people by boat from the port city of Camarioca, Castro closed the door to the mass exodus of these people, whose professions were important economic assets, and instead agreed to regularly scheduled plane flights from Havana to Miami. Between 1965 and 1973 250,564 people escaped Cuba on these freedom flights. The 1980 Mariel Boatlift and the balseros in 1994 totaled 150,000 people who reached the United States. The exodus of these nonelites, largely people of color, was used by the U.S. press to illustrate the serious plight of socioeconomic conditions in Cuba.

Cuba's forays into global affairs were intended to strengthen Cuba's international image, but each instance produced the opposite impact. Clearly Cuban soldiers served Soviet interests in Africa from 1974 to 1977. Having just extricated itself from Vietnam, the United States could do little but protest. The ineptitude of Cuban military forces in Grenada during Operation Fury in 1983 weakened Cuba's prestige in the socialist world. And on two occasions the United States dealt directly with the Soviet Union to solve the crisis. In 1970 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger successfully challenged the Soviet construction of a submarine base at Cienfuegos, and in the 1980s the North Americans again negotiated an end to Soviet aid to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, including Cuban military advisors, doctors, and other support personnel.

While Castro orchestrated a vociferous public outcry in the 1999–2000 crisis over Elián González, it was the United States that determined his fate. Found drifting alone at sea by Miami fishermen, the five-year-old Cuban boy was brought to Miami. According to U.S. policy at the time, he was entitled to U.S. citizenship, but the Clinton administration determined that the boy was better served by being returned to his father in Cuba. Castro claimed victory, but few outside Cuba believed him.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought new economic investors to Cuba and not the United States, but those investments slowed dramatically after September 11, 2001, and the subsequent global war on terror. The Cuban economy worsened to the degree that the government imported U.S. foodstuffs, beginning in 2002. Retired president and father of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro admitted publicly in late 2010 that the communist model does not work. Castro also issued a rebuke of the Iranian regime and its Middle East policies that antagonize the United States. These statements, accompanied by President Raúl Castro's announcement that the one million state jobs would be eliminated and trade reforms would be pursued, suggested to many analysts that Cuba is reaching out to the United States as it had in 1963, 1964, 1977, 1981, and at various times in the 1990s. With the exception of Jimmy Carter, the previous efforts at rapprochement stumbled on issues dating to the 1959 Cuban Revolution. In the changed world of 2011, would they do so again?

See also Adams, John Quincy; Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio; Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1961; Castro Ruz, Fidel; Cuba, Rapprochement with the United States, 1960s–1990s; Cuba, U.S. Embargo of; Cuban Americans; Cuban Democracy Act, 1992 (United States); Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, 1996 (United States); Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962; Cuban Revolution, 1956–1959, U.S. Policy toward; Dance of the Millions; Grau San Martín, Ramón; López, Narciso; Jefferson, Thomas; Louisiana Purchase, 1803; Monroe Doctrine; Platt, Orville; Soulé, Pierre; Spanish-Cuban-American War 1895–1898; U.S. circum-Caribbean Interventions, 1900–1934: Cuba

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Copyright © 2012 by CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.

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