US-Cuba relations: From Cold War conflict to Cuban Thaw

TEHRAN, Aug. 15 (MNA) – Fifty and a half years ago, when Che Guevara alongside Fidel and Raul Castro were promoting leftist ideals in Western hemisphere, US interventions in the Caribbean and resistance against Monroe Doctrine were the convincing reasons to overthrow US-backed authoritarian regime of Fulgencio Batista.

Today, Havana’s communist government has announced the reopening of diplomatic relations with the United States and the hostility of the Cold War era has given its place to Cuban Thaw. The surprise restoration has also heated up the debate on how Cuba and the United States have ended their 54-year hostility.

Although most of these debates are focused on the give-and-takes of the diplomatic restoration, the appropriate answer can be found in the historical examination of the different aspects of the Cuban revolution and the evolution of Cuba’s internal affairs since 1959. In other words, 1959 revolution changed only political system of Cuba which in turn created some social reforms, while the economic system of the country didn’t experience any fundamental shift. Immediately after the revolution, the revolutionary socialist state joined the communist lines and began to export its anti-imperialist ideology to the countries of the region and the world, like Nicaragua, Algeria, Angola, Namibia, etc. During those years, the social reforms were limited to national concerns of Cuban society without defining new structure for the internationalized revolutionary government. Actually the revolutionary government adopted policies to provide equality for blacks and women, to eradicate poverty, to reduce unemployment, and to improve education and health, however no long-term policy was introduced. Moreover, the Cuban government nationalized all sectors of economy, including US-owned industries, while the pre-revolutionary economic infrastructures remained unchanged.

On the other hand, after the revolution, US President Eisenhower froze all Cuban assets on American soil, imposed the first trade embargo in 1960 and broke off diplomatic relations in 1961. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s failed operation, Cuba as the Soviet’s close ally in Latin America was introduced as a security threat which led to the United States’ decades-long economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba. Therefore, following Cold War conflicts, the United States tried to contain and isolate Cuba as far as possible, while the revolutionary government wasn’t involved very much in the severe economic and social problems.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba lost its major international sponsor and the economic crisis and widespread food shortages led to the Special Period in Cuba. So the difficulty began, US tightened its embargo and consequently, Cuba Democracy Act in 1992 and Helms-Burton Act in 1996 worsened the economic situation of the country. In the middle of those economic pressures, the new generation raised new requests and the generational shift created more social problems.

The Special Period showed that the revolutionary government has to revise the Cubans’ social needs based on their interactions with the globalized world. Here, the redefinition of social and economic infrastructures, missed parts of the 1959 political revolution, became crucial for continuing the fifty years of fight against imperialism. Therefore, communist government understood that American embargo and the isolation of Cuba’s economy must be managed in a way that the revolutionary ideals could be preserved by Cuba’s new generation that no longer remembers why or how the two countries became enemies.

During recent decade, on one hand, aforementioned economic and social problems in Cuba and on the other hand, Obama’s diplomacy after the Bush’s “War on Terror” and the changing political and electoral circumstances within the Cuban-American community created a great impetus for both countries to negotiate on the issues of mutual and common interests. So Raul Castro, the Revolutionary Leader and US President Barack Obama, born just a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, tried to defrost the frozen bilateral relation and Cuban Thaw began.

Cuban Thaw initially was focused on some social and economic give-and-takes, including prisoner exchange, easing of restrictions on remittances, banking and travel, and providing more internet access for Cubans. But Obama continued its efforts in a diplomatic field in which the last ten presidents of the United States refused to be involved, and in spite of the Republicans and Democrats controversies, Cuba was removed from the list of terrorism-supporting states and the Cuban flag was raised for the first time over a century in the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba to the United States of America.

As a result, different debates, analyses and polls emerge every moment. Some analysts speak about the failed Washington policies toward Cuba. Others concentrate on the will of a new generation of Cubans and Cuban-Americans to change their leaders’ reciprocal understandings. There are also some debates about the ultimate attempts for easing Cold War tensions. Moreover, La Exclusiva Encuesta en Cuba de Univision showed that vast majority of Cubans favor closer ties with US. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Gallup showed that most Americans - even Cuban Americans - support normalizing diplomatic relations. According to a Pew Research Center survey, seven out of every 10 US citizens support the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

However, the reality is that neither Cuba nor the United States have ended their 54-year hostility. Indeed, Cuba is taking its chance for solving the economic and social problems of the country within the framework of its revolutionary government, as Raul Castro mentions “this in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved” and as Fidel Castro assures that he “does not trust United States policies.” So the Cuban Thaw is “a slow and orderly transfer of the leadership of the revolution to the new generations” of Cubans as declared by Raul Castro.

On the other hand, as mentioned by Obama, Cuban Thaw “will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance US interests,” and shows how the “dialogue” and “engagement” are used to restore the American leadership in Western hemisphere. In other words, the experience of Iran nuclear deal as a great example for Obama’s “engagement” diplomacy was applied to US regional affairs in order to control the leftist groups and manage opponent countries.

In sum, it would be premature to speak about the normalization of the relations between two nations. The difficult consequences of a 50-year embargo, the everlasting mistrust of Cubans, and the emerging criticisms from Latin American countries like Venezuela about restoration of US-Cuba relations are not the issues that could be solved by doing just some innovative and creative actions. It is matter of time that can show whether Cuba is successful in preserving its revolutionary ideals by managing its relations with United States or the Obama’s engagement policy is proper diplomacy for containing the enemies and leading to better outcomes.


Elaheh Nourigholamizadeh has achieved her MA in Latin American Studies and is a PhD candidate in North American Studies from Faculty of World Stuies in Tehran University.


News Code 109221


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