As the United States and Cuba work toward establishing diplomatic relations in 2015, it is important to understand why relations became tense between the two countries to begin with.
During the age of the Cold War, the fight against Communism was a standard in the U.S. Beginning in 1959, Fidel Castro led a revolt against President Fulgencio Batista, establishing a socialist state.
In 1960, the U.S. cut imports on Cuban sugar in response to Castro’s increased tax on American imports. Castro declared Cuba as a communist state, announcing the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as its ally.
After Castro feared a U.S. invasion, the USSR began installing nuclear weapons on Cuban land, just 90 miles from the U.S. During this time, some American citizens may have feared that a nuclear war was inevitable.
Upon a 13-day-deadlock in which President Kennedy made the world aware of his intentions to use military force if necessary, the disaster was avoided through an agreement between President Kennedy and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Khrushchev agreed to remove nuclear weapons from Cuba in exchange for the removal of U.S. weapons from Turkey and a promise not to invade Cuba. Shortly after the demise of the USSR in 1991, communist Cuba slowly collapsed as well.
With the passing of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, the Cuban economy began to fall apart. U.S. policy toward Cuba began isolating its affairs with the western hemisphere by penalizing foreign companies for doing business with the island.
After Elian Gonzalez was found off the coast of Florida in 1999, the Cuban government requested that he was returned to Cuba. The State of Florida was left to decide the custody of the boy. Once federal agents seized Gonzalez from his relative’s house in Miami, the U.S. finally ruled that he be returned to his father in Cuba, according to NBC World News.
Recently, President Obama has taken steps to repair U.S. relations with Cuba. After Raúl Castro became president in 2008, the relations between the countries has become less tense. In 2012, Cuba began lifting Visa restrictions for those who previously needed government permission to travel abroad, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
“It is better to encourage and support reform than impose policies that will render a country a failed state,” said President Barack Obama on the White House Fact Sheet.
The Seventh Summit of the Americas, held April 10 and 11 in Panama City, marked the first time that leaders of the U.S. and Cuba have met without hostility. Havana suggested that Cuba be lifted from the U.S. State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Although President Obama said he hopes to help Cuba reach democracy, the Cubans are trying to maintain “as much of the old Castro system as they can,” said Carla Anne Robbins, adjunct senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations.
President Obama announced Tuesday that he plans to remove Cuba from the American government’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, according to the New York Times.
Since the Seventh Summit of the Americas has concluded, members of the Colorado State University community have expressed their opinions on the possibility of establishing democratic relations with Cuba.
Riley Ellis is a graduate student in the department of foreign languages, studying food security in Cuba for her masters thesis.
“I was in Cuba this past January for a couple of weeks,” Ellis said. “According to a lot of people that I have talked to, they don’t really want a change in the socialist government. They have a lot of good things going for them, their education is outstanding. Their literacy rate is higher than what we have in the U.S., healthcare is free for everybody and there are a lot of doctors as well.”
Ellis said that although there are still restrictions for freedom of expression, she expects that to change as the country opens up to outside influences.
Zack Burley, a senior liberal arts major, said it makes sense to remove Cuba from the American government’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
“We have been having refugees from Cuba come over for the last hundred years,” Burley said. “And you rarely ever hear about them being terrorist threats.”
Burley said Communism has expired throughout the majority of the world, and the countries that do exist as communist states have isolated themselves.
“They want us to come in and help fix their infrastructure and things like that,” Ellis said. “And rebuild their buildings. So hopefully, what I would love to see, is that there is some kind of rebuilding that maintains its essence for the country itself.”
Both Burley and Ellis said they support democratic relations with Cuba.
“I think they are at a point now, where it (isolation) doesn’t make sense,” Burley said. “The Cold War has been over for 20 years, and all the reasons we embargoed them in the first place (have) dissipated.”