Former President of Cuba Fidel Castro and his brother and successor Raúl Castro characterized U.S. and Cuba relations for over six decades, ending in 2021 with the transfer of power to Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Since the end of the Cuban revolution in 1959—in which Fidel Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed Cuban Leader Fulgencio Batista and installed a Communist government—the United States has treated Cuba as a threat to democracy and the American stake on international political power.
The New York Times described Castro in the 1959 article “A Symbol of Rebellion” as the bearded “symbol of victory over the Batista regime” whose “ability to capture the imagination of thousands of men and women who never knew him personally” established him as a charismatic political force to be reckoned with.
The aforementioned traits became precisely the qualities that would haunt the United States throughout the following years of botched attacks and nuclear panic.
After Castro increased taxes on American imports and formed a relationship with the Soviet Union, the United States enacted an embargo on Cuba that would only grow more restricted in the following decades.
Following a plan created under Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy approved the now infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion. Kennedy sent a small force of 1,400 Cuban exiles to topple Castro’s government. Although Kennedy intended the operation to be covert, Castro almost immediately identified the exiles as agents of the United States and Castro’s army defeated the American threat within three days. The invasion proved embarrassing for the United States and Kennedy, who was in the infancy of his administration.
Following the failed invasion, the U.S. expanded the embargo on Cuba, causing severe damage to the Cuban economy. Cuba’s economic loss from the embargo is estimated at 130 billion since 1962, according to the Council of Foreign Relations.
Tensions were further exacerbated by the Cuban Missile Crisis, when American satellites found USSR nuclear weapons in Cuba. President Kennedy notified the Soviet Union of the discovery and forcefully requested the removal of the weapons of mass destruction, culminating in two weeks of total uncertainty in the face of possible nuclear warfare. Kennedy struck a deal with the Soviet Union, promising the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, ending the crisis.
In the following decades, the United States continued to tighten restrictions on trade with Cuba.
Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl took over leadership of Cuba in 2008, in light of Fidel’s growing health problems. The same year, President Barack Obama loosened long-enforced travel restrictions.
In a momentous step towards mending diplomatic relations, Obama and Castro swapped political prisoners, and in 2015, the United States removed Cuba from its terrorism list.
Following Fidel Castro’s death, former President Donald Trump assumed office. Trump reversed the strides towards normal diplomatic relations enacted under the Obama administration.
How the Biden administration will address over 60 years of sordid history between the United States and Cuba is yet to come.