How is Cuba different from the USA?

Cuba and the USA: A love-hate relationship

It was Barack Obama who ushered in the political springtime with Cuba. The first African American US president spoke of a "new beginning after decades of mistrust," and eased travel restrictions for Cubans in exile and the rules on money transfers.

At the America Summit in 2015, there was a first direct conversation between the two heads of state. Obama had Cuba removed from the US terror list, restored diplomatic relations and even reopened the US embassy in Havana through Secretary of State John Kerry.

In March 2016, Obama landed on a three-day visit to the capital Havana, while Raúl Castro called for the complete lifting of the US embargo as the next step. But it did not get to that.

On the contrary: on November 8, 2016, two weeks before Fidel Castro died at the age of 90, Donald Trump won the US presidential election - and turned the clock back again. Cuba is back on a US list of "terrorist states", the US is making the so-called "remesas" more difficult, the money transfers from Cubans living abroad to their families, or is hindering the delivery of vital medicines, especially in times of corona.

Sixty years ago the embargo was "only" about sugar. The then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower cut back imports of Cuba's most important export goods and advised US citizens against traveling to Cuba. On January 3, 1961, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba entirely.

Departure: On March 21, 2016, Barack Obama visits Raúl Castro in Havana

Disaster in the Bay of Pigs

Washington was convinced that the embargo would bring Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries to their knees within a very short time. But the prognosis turned out to be wrong. Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy, slipped into the Bay of Pigs disaster shortly after taking office. On April 17, 1961, a mercenary force of Cubans in exile tried to overthrow Castro with the help of the US secret service CIA. Cuba's revolutionary army fought back the amateurishly prepared invasion.

A year later, on March 24, 1962, Kennedy enforced a complete economic embargo on Cuba. The conflict with the Soviet Union came to a head, and the world was on the verge of a third nuclear world war because of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The US President responded to the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba with a naval blockade, President Nikita Khrushchev had the missiles withdrawn after negotiations - on condition that the US does not invade Cuba.

Cuban Missile Crisis: A US reconnaissance aircraft flies over the US warship Barry (front) and the Soviet cargo Anosow

Rapprochement under Jimmy Carter

The embargo became quiet over the next 15 years. It wasn't until 1977 that a former peanut farmer brought some movement back into relations between the United States and Cuba. Jimmy Carter relaxed the travel regulations and opened a so-called advocacy group in Havana. Cuba also chose this expression and moved into an office in Washington.

The Democrat Carter was still president when thousands of Cubans occupied the Peruvian embassy in Havana. Fidel Castro approved the departure. From April to October 1980, 125,000 Cubans fled to Florida - in overcrowded boats and quite legally. The greatest mass exodus from Cuba went down in history as the Mariel boat crisis - because the barges sailed from the port of Mariel near the capital.

Cubas groans under "special period"

A decade later, the conditions in the conflict had fundamentally changed: the Iron Curtain had fallen, the Cold War ended, and the Cuban protective power, the Soviet Union, collapsed. Cuba groaned under the so-called "special period": power outages increased, factories closed, supply bottlenecks were the order of the day. The Cuban economy shrank by half between 1989 and 1992.

George Bush, Ronald Reagan's successor, saw the chance to finally cut off Cuba. In 1992, Congress passed the Cuban Democracy Act. US companies in third countries were no longer allowed to trade with Cuba, and most charter flights between Miami and Havana were banned. Bush was also allowed to cut aid from states if they cooperate with Cuba. After all, you were allowed to continue writing letters to Cuba, and making phone calls was no problem either.

During the "Balsero" crisis in 1994, many Cuban boat refugees were rescued by the US Coast Guard

The "Balsero" crisis

A year later, the UN General Assembly called on the US by 88 votes and 57 abstentions to finally lift the embargo. There were four votes against, one from Washington, of course.

Because thousands of Cubans took to the streets in 1994 to demonstrate against the difficult living conditions, Castro once again turned to the valve of mass emigration to calm the situation. 33,000 Cubans fled to the United States on self-made rafts. In Spanish they were called "balsas", which is why this exodus is known as the "balsero" crisis.

Washington then promised to issue 20,000 visas to Cuban immigrants annually. In May 1995 this policy was given a very special name: "Wet feet, dry feet": If a Cuban refugee reaches the USA, with dry feet, so to speak, he is allowed to stay. If, on the other hand, he is upset with wet feet on the open sea, it goes back to Cuba.

Clinton signs Helms-Burton Act

US President Bill Clinton actually wanted to relax the embargo, not tighten it, and announced that he would veto the Helms-Burton Act, which had already been passed by Congress. But then Cuba shot down two U.S. civilian planes with four Cuban exiles on board, and Clinton signed the law in 1996.

Clinton's successor George W. Bush tightened the travel restrictions again in 2004: Cubans living in the USA or US citizens with a Cuban vote were only allowed to visit their relatives every three years instead of the previous year.

Cubans in exile show their support for US President Donald Trump at a rally in Miami in June 2017

In 2008, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro resigned as president, weak and exhausted, leaving the field to Brother Raúl. The United Nations voted again to end the US embargo. Now there were only three countries that were against it: again including the USA, which the vote made little impression on. After all, the decision was not binding.

When Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USA seven years later, on July 20, 2015, the two heads of state raised enormous hopes. The gradual convergence that followed was considered to be one of the great achievements of the Obama era. But under U-President Trump this development came to an abrupt end with the imposition of new sanctions.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    The first kink: Cuban revolution

    On January 1, 1959, Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro conquered Havana. The six-year military dictatorship under the US-backed Fulgencio Batistas came to an end. A little later, the men around Fidel, his brother Raúl and the icon of the revolution, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, declared Cuba a socialist state.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Official end of the relationship: Closure of the embassy

    The socialist revolution put a strain on relations between the two American states. Washington soon stopped economic aid and cut back imports of sugar, Cuba's most important export. When Castro asked the US government to reduce its staff in Havana in 1961, Washington reacted firmly and closed its embassy.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Coup attempt in the Bay of Pigs

    In April 1961, Cubans in exile tried to overthrow the Castro. But the Bay of Pigs invasion failed - despite the support of the newly elected US President John F. Kennedy. Washington feared that the “virus of communism” could spread to other Latin American countries, especially since Cuba's ties to the Soviet Union were growing ever closer.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Agreement instead of nuclear war

    In the fall of 1962, the CIA discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. For a few days it seemed that all diplomatic negotiations would fail. The world was on the verge of nuclear war. Only after the United States blocked Cuba from the sea did the adversaries return to the negotiating table - and agreed to withdraw nuclear weapons.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Diplomacy under strange roofs

    The next few years were marked by mutual conspiracy allegations and populist media coverage on both sides. It was not until May 1977 that Washington opened a "representation of interests" in Havana under the umbrella of the Czechoslovak embassy. Switzerland later took on this protective mandate. For its part, Cuba established itself as a guest of Switzerland in Washington (picture).

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Escape from collective misery

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic situation in impoverished Cuba deteriorated again. Tens of thousands of Cubans left their country in view of the increasingly precarious living conditions. Many fled to the United States by boat. With the "Cuban Democracy Act", which contained further trade restrictions, the US government contributed to this situation.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Mockery and ridicule for "imperialists"

    In the 1990s, the United States' Permanent Mission in Havana became the scene of a sometimes bizarre propaganda war. So Castro had a now legendary billboard put up on which a guerrillero makes fun of a grim Uncle Sam. His message to the Yankee: "Dear imperialists, we are not in the least afraid of you".

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    New contact: historical handshake

    With Barack Obama came the détente. He wants to leave "decades of mistrust" behind. Immediately after taking office, he ordered restrictions on US citizens of Cuban origin to be removed when traveling to Cuba. At the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Obama and Castro shake hands for the first time. A short time later, diplomatic relations were officially established.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Return to the Malecón

    The USA decided to further facilitate travel and trade for Cuba, and both countries started negotiations to open embassies. The two heads of state met for a discussion at the America summit in Panama. Now, for the first time in 54 years, the US flag is flying over the building on Havana's Malecón promenade.

  • Chronicle of a difficult relationship

    Che Guevara in a new guise

    Whether the Castros like it or not: Today, Che Guevara and “Stars and Stripes” are no longer mutually exclusive in Cuba. Capitalism is pushing the island. Under the economic pressure, the regime opens its system in triple steps for the market economy. This is particularly evident in tourism: the number of visitors rose by 15 percent in the first four months of this year.

    Author: Nina Niebergall