For more than half a century, the island nation of Cuba, with its communist government, has managed to survive in the hostile penumbra of its superpower neighbor to the north. A mere ninety miles from Key West, Florida, Cuba can feel like you’ve stepped into another world.
Much of that feeling can be attributed to the long-standing economic embargo imposed by the United States after the Cuban government nationalized American property and businesses in the early 1960s under the leadership of Fidel Castro, who ruled the island nation until his death in 2016. The US embargo isolated Cuba and limited foreign investment. It also forced the Cuban people to be resourceful, most evident in the recycling and restoration of classic American cars that have been in use since the 1960s.
With the passing of Fidel Castro, Cuba entered a new era where change seemed possible. Under President Obama, relations between the US and Cuba appeared to be entering a new era, though this direction was later reversed by the Trump administration.
The fraught history, both political and economic, between the US and Cuba can be traced back to the three-month Spanish-American War in 1898. Ostensibly, the US was fighting for Cuba’s freedom from Spain’s colonial rule; in reality, the US viewed Cuba as its ‘backyard’ and treated it as such.
For the next half-century, Cuba would struggle with corruption, revolts, coups and US military intervention. When Castro and communists seized power in 1958’s revolution, there was
hope on the part of many Cubans that this entrenched system of corruption in government was finally over. Of course, those who had become wealthy or had otherwise done well under the system, naturally resisted any change.
Wealthy landowners and business people lost their property to nationalization. As a result, many fled to the US where they bitterly scorned Castro and his revolution while exerting enormous influence in subsequent American policy on Cuba.
And while the communist revolution brought much-needed change to Cuba, it likewise became more authoritarian and dogmatic with time. What it’s evolved into is the current standoff where mistrust and resentment fester on both sides of the debate, clouding hopes for a truly new era in Cuba.