US-Cuban Relations: Historical Significance and the Paradox Behind It

 


By JOSHUA CHANG || July 27, 2016

In the spring of 2016, President Obama traveled to Cuba to meet with Raúl Castro, its president. In a historic summit a new connection was laid between both countries after decades of Cold-War era hostilities drove an indomitable rift between them. The thawing of hostilities has been accompanied by more economic liberalization on Cuba’s part, as it increasingly shifts away from the socialist command economy promoted under the ancien regime under Fidel Castro, Raúl’s brother. Driven by stronger economic ties and the statesmanship of both leaders, the United States and Cuba are entering a new era of reconciliation. The US has begun to lift the trade embargo it placed on Cuba in 1962, flights from the mainland to the island country are now permitted, and exchange in both communications and commerce is flourishing.

Yet progress has not been smooth. Fidel Castro, although no longer officially in charge of the Cuban government, continues to condemn US policy and exhibits an unshakeable mistrust of the United States. Despite progress in US-Cuban relations, he still perceives the Colossus of the North as an imperialist power hell-bent on exploiting Cuba’s economy. But if Cuba’s economy expects to make gains for itself in this new era, and animosities are being cast aside, why does Fidel Castro continue to obstinately refuse to completely trust the United States? What significance does this revival in relations have in relation to the overall historical pathway that has characterized the contemporary Cuban experience?

Although the benefits of newly improved relations between the two countries are evident, this reversal in the trend of the foreign relations between the US and Cuba comprises an ironic paradox that challenges the very foundations that the Cuban Revolution was built upon. Boundaries between past and present are blurred, and one must consider how the future of Cuba will be affected by these recent developments.

 

Revolutionary Tradition

 

To understand the nature of Cuba’s evolution from former Spanish colony to a sovereign Caribbean island nation reestablishing ties with a former archenemy, one must examine the nature of Cuban history from the mid 19th century to the present day. Historians often interpret Cuban history as a series of revolutionary movements that sought to both fend off foreign oppression while simultaneously placing the cornerstones for a new society devoid of inequality and injustice.

Cuba initiated two uprisings against its former colonial master, Spain, from 1868-1878, and 1895-1898. By the second uprising near the turn of the 20th century, the Cuban revolutionaries were on the brink of attaining victory and ousting the Spaniards. This they did, albeit, at a cost.

As most Americans familiar with the Spanish-American war know, the United States intervened in the conflict on behalf of the Cubans, defeating Spain. However, under the Platt Amendment, Cuba became nominally independent, but was subjected to protectorate status under the supervision of the United States.

US businessmen had strong commercial ties with Cuba, especially in the sugar industry. Throughout the 20th century, Cuba retained its status as a single-crop export economy heavily dependent upon the market forces surrounding the popularity of sugar as a commodity. Although the Cuban economy languished, these US businessmen were solely interested in reaping profits, and not further developing the infrastructure of the country or diversifying its economy. Cubans were infuriated not only by the economic doldrums brought on by their dependence on sugar exports, but also by the fact that the United States also manipulated the country’s elections to ensure that local politicians allegiant to US interests remained in power.

After having continued for nearly half a century, Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution in the 1950s was meant to overturn the status-quo of the country and uphold the ideals and goals espoused by previous Cuban revolutionaries throughout the decades in their struggles against oppression. Castro even saw himself as an extension of the legacy of Cuban revolutionism in his specific intent to reform Cuban society. Castro’s Revolution allowed him to usurp control, end cycles of political corruption, and consolidate control over US businesses and facilities on the country.

As we know, this resulted in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and numerous attempts by the US to overthrow Castro, as well as the subsequent Cuban movement to the Soviet sphere of influence.

 

The Goals

 

Although traditionalist and revisionist historians have continually debated on the direction that Castro wanted Cuba to move forward, they cannot deny that regardless of the economic issues that arose out of his policies of Cuban dependency on the USSR, the Cuban leader himself wanted to ensure that the United States be excluded from the sphere of Cuban affairs forever. Castro used the threat of US invasion and antagonisms to justify his policies and use of power. The Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Embargo were enough to keep him in power, and Castro furthered ties with the United States’ Cold War rival, the USSR, to ensure that never again would Cuba be trapped in dependency on the Colossus of the North.

Even as the Cuban economy faltered in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Castro considered his revolution to be a victory so long as the United States was kept at bay.

 

The Present

 

As the United States mends its relations with Cuba, the general fear is that Cuba will revert back to another period of dependency on its larger neighbor through a capitalist system with terms dictated by the US. Castro himself may regard this to be a betrayal of his sacred revolution, and an unraveling of all that was achieved through it. However, to those skeptical of renewed relations between the United States and Cuba, the circumstances are quite different. For one, the United States no longer possesses any monopolies over any industries in Cuba, which means that there will be no unfair economic imbalance when the two start out.

Whereas Cuban suspicion lingered heavily during the Cold War, this is no longer the case as Cubans actively seek foreign investment from other countries to reinvigorate a previously stagnant economy. Tourism from the United States as well as remittances are doing much to lay the groundwork for this revival in the Cuban economy.

Could Cuba be experiencing a post-Castro revolution, albeit one in which it fully integrates itself with the global economic network? One can only hope that the past can be put behind the country for good.

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