By: Akhil Kapur
One year ago, on July 20, 2015, Cuba and the United States restored a diplomatic relationship that had been severed since 1961.
The decision was the largest step taken by the U.S administration towards normalizing its historically strained relationship with Cuba.
Problems began in 1898, when the U.S. defeated Spain and took Cuba as a colony.
American forces occupied Cuba until 1902, when the U.S. y allowed a new government to take full control of Cuba’s state affairs. The Platt Amendment, a U.S. army appropriations bill amendment that gave the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba, was drafted so American forces could maintain partial control of the territory.
The Platt Amendment, however, was repealed in 1934 when the U.S. and Cuba signed a Treaty of Relations. The U.S. and Cuba subsequently cooperated under the rule of Fulgencio Batista, who was the elected president from 1940 to 1944 and dictator from 1952 to 1959. Batista was overthrown during the Cuban Revolution, which was led by a young, ambitious and revolutionary Marxism-Leninist named Fidel Castro.
During Castro’s rise to power, U.S.-Cuba relations steadily deteriorated. Castro’s reforms and the Cuban government’s increased cooperation with the Soviet Union pushed the U.S. to sever its diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961. Matters only got worse from there: in the same year, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) backed an unsuccessful invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. The CIA also made several unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Castro as part of Operation Mongoose.
In light of all this chaos, Castro proclaimed Cuba a communist state and official ally of the USSR.
The Cold War was raging, and Cuba was an enemy of the U.S. The antagonism culminated in the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis: in October 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was informed that there were Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba.
The U.S saw this as an immediate threat to its national security. Over an intense 13 days, Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, continually met to discuss the imminent threat of mutually assured destruction. Nuclear war would have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and more than 100 million Russians as well as the onslaught of World War III.
Since that encounter, the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has been icy. The U.S. embargo on Cuba has only gotten stricter with time. President George W. Bush, for example, tightened American travel embargoes, cracked down on illegal cash transfers to Cuba and worked furiously to create a Communist-free Cuba.
It was not until Barack Obama became president in 2008 that U.S.-Cuba relations began to normalize. Obama signed into law a congressional spending bill that eased some economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba. In early 2013, Cuban and U.S. officials held secret talks, partially brokered by Pope Francis, to start the process of restoring diplomatic relations between the two nations.
On December 17, 2014, a plan to reestablish relations and eventually end the longstanding embargo was announced by both Obama and Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother and successor. Cuba and the U.S. pledged to start official negotiations with the end goal of reopening their respective embassies in Havana and Washington.
This brings us to exactly one year ago today, when President Obama announced the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. embassy in Havana. It’s important to note that the U.S has maintained its commercial, economic and financial embargo (making it illegal for U.S. corporations to do business with Cuba).
However, no one can deny that President Obama has made great strides in salvaging a relationship that many thought was broken beyond repair.
Akhil Kapur is a communications intern for the EastWest Institute. He is a rising senior at New York University majoring in media, culture and communications and concentrating in global and transcultural communications.