By Samantha Rosen
Over the course of 10 U.S. presidents, a nuclear crisis, a U.S. economic embargo and a failed invasion, the U.S. and Cuba had maintained disagreeable relations for more than 50 years. However, in December 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced it was time to start restoring diplomatic ties.
The stalemate between the two countries began in 1960 with then-Cuban President Fidel Castro, who gained power in a successful revolt. His socialist government took control of all foreign goods brought into Cuba, greatly increased taxes on American imports to Cuba and established trade deals with the Soviet Union.
In retaliation, then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower decreased the amount of Cuban sugar imported, prohibited Cuban goods from being sold in America, stopped nearly all trade with Cuba and cut off diplomatic ties with the socialist Castro government.
On April 17, 1961, President John F. Kennedy began the fight to overthrow Castro. The U.S. sent in a brigade of CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles in an attempt to depose their president. Within three days, Cuban armed forces defeated the brigade. However, this attack — dubbed the Bay of Pigs Invasion — was just the start; over the next few decades, covert operations against Cuba continued.
In the same year, a secret agreement between Cuba and the Soviet Union formed, allowing the latter party to build a missile base on the island.
Known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, this base created a 14-day standoff between the two nations in 1962, until they came to an agreement that the sites would be dismantled if the U.S. pledged not to invade Cuba.
Following this, economic and diplomatic isolation became the roots of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
“Personally, I think it’s great that the United States and Cuba are rebuilding our diplomatic ties,” freshman government and politics major Bailey Dinman said. “The Cold War began a half century ago, and at this point the animosity between our two countries has diminished.”
When Obama came into office in 2009, he hoped for greater engagement with Cuba and began reversing some of the restrictions on finances and travel. He started to provide more cellular and satellite service in Cuba and allowed U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba under licenses for education or religious purposes.
However, there were still various obstacles, including Cuba’s place on the terrorism list, Cuba’s imprisonment of American Alan Gross and the concern of human rights in Cuba.
Following a prisoner swap and eighteen months of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials, Obama and Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic ties.
“It would only be disadvantageous to continue to have a negative relationship with Cuba in this current age of international terrorism, where allies are valuable,” Dinman said. “Although the there is much to do to build this strained relationship, I think the negotiations have been a great start.”
Beginning in January 2015, the U.S. enacted new travel and trade regulations, allowing travelers to visit Cuba for specific purposes and spend money there, without first obtaining a government license.
Some students, however, are leery of this relationship.
“I think it’s good that the U.S. is setting up these friendly relations with Cuba, but I still think that visitors should be wary and cautious considering their past conflicts,” freshman journalism major Morgan Caplan said. “Eventually, Cuba will be in better standing with the U.S. and will overall be a better country for travelers to visit, but in the meantime I don’t think Cuba is there yet.”
Other changes permit airlines to provide regular commercial service to the country, travelers to use U.S. credit and debit cards, U.S. insurance to hold coverage while visiting Cuba, U.S. companies to invest in some small businesses, and building materials to be shipped to Cuban companies.
On March 20, Obama became the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1928. Although some students are hesitant about the new relationship between the two countries, others are excited about the prospect of traveling there.
“I think that the fact that the border [is] opening up is incredible,” freshman education major Claudia Romeo said. “People [having] the opportunity to visit family members and go to a place [where] they might have ties … is an amazing thing.”