What Happened to the Progress the U.S. Was Making with Cuba?

Written by: Rachel Watson

Ever since Cuba turned to communism during the cold war, U.S.-Cuba relations have been strained. The first embargo placed on Cuba was in 1960 during Eisenhower’s presidency, which banned all U.S. exports to Cuba except medicine. During JFK’s term, the embargo extended to cover all U.S. imports. The embargo continues still to this day making Cuba the second longest sanction in U.S. history. Former President Barack Obama created a closer relationship with Cuba back in 2015, but those ties are quickly being broken under the new administration. Even though Obama wanted to ease tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, he also mentioned that, “we continue to have serious differences, including on democracy and human rights.” Cuba’s human rights violations include imprisonment of political opponents to the Castro government and censorship on speech and media, such as blocking the websites of the political opposition. One reason Obama wanted to normalize relations with Cuba is because there are economic opportunities for American businesses. For instance, American hoteliers can create or restore resorts. 

President Trump has opposing beliefs about how to handle the U.S. relationship with Cuba than Former President Obama. Trump began establishing stricter relations with Cuba in 2017, when he said, “We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo.” This sentiment has garnished support from Cuban-Americans in Florida alongside Senator Marco Rubio. Trump is not abandoning all hope with Cuba, but wants to strengthen the U.S. – Cuban relationship when the Cuban government aligns its ideology with the U.S. more closely. Under the Obama administration, the relaxed relations allowed more money to pour into the Cuban military with revenues coming in from American tourists staying in Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), which had a large business conglomerate that works closely with the Cuban military. Trump claims to be in favor of helping the Cuban people, but is against accepting and backing the Cuban government’s oppressive acts and lack of respect they have for human rights. However, some believe that if the U.S. and Cuba have a closer relationship, the Cuban people will be exposed to American democracy and capitalism and perhaps will demand a change in the way they are governed.

The U.S – Cuban relationship was hindered by mysterious sonic attacks on staffers in the U.S. embassy in Cuba. The first sounds were reported on December 2016 and continued through August 2017. The details of the attack are still uncertain, but some kind of weapon was used to create an inaudible sound to humans that caused immediate physical symptoms like nausea, headaches, and hearing loss to the Americans working there. President Trump has put the blame on the Cuban government; however, they have denied any knowledge or involvement in these attacks. The U.S. has made no formal accusations, because there is no evidence that the Cuban government was involved and have claimed not to have the technology to create this type of weapon. Whether the Cuban government knew about the sonic attacks or not, it happened under their watch and they must take some responsible for what happens in their country. After the sonic attacks, The State Department reduced the embassy staff by 60 percent and removed nearly two thirds (15 diplomats) of Cuba’s D.C. staff. The U.S. embassy in Cuba now has the minimum number of workers to function and can only carry out core functions. 

The lack of staffers at the embassy can harm the Cuban and American people. There could be a negative impact to the private sector for Cuban and American businesses because Cuban entrepreneurs buy many items from the United States. Many Cubans will no longer be able to visit their families in the U.S. because of the harsher travel regulations and slower visa process. The lack of embassy employees forces many Cubans to go through other countries’ U.S. embassies to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. Also, a travel warning to Cuba was issued discouraging many Americans from making a trip to Cuba. Although Trump is pulling back from Cuba, Obama set a precedent for a successful, close relationship with Cuba that a future president can revive.