U.S., Cuba begin restoring relations after 55 years of embargo

Courtesy of Mara Huberman
Courtesy of Mara Huberman

On January 21, United States and Cuban officials met in Havana to begin discussing reestablishing diplomatic relations between the neighboring nations.

Reestablishing relations would allow for some trading to resume, travel policies to be loosened, and for business interaction between the United States and Cuban citizens and institutions.

The United States enacted the embargo on October 19, 1960, following the removal of the Batista regime by the Cuban revolution, leading to communist leader Fidel Castro’s rise to power as well as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. While the initial sanction allowed only movement of food and medicine, the full embargo, cutting off all imports, was placed on February 7, 1962.

Following the embargo, Castro’s Cuba formed a strong relationship with the Soviet Union, enemy of the United States leading up to, and during, the Cold War. This relationship between the two communist nations prevented the U.S. from Cuban affiliation.

Politicians and citizens have debated the effectiveness of the Cuban embargo for many years.

Some feel that the embargo benefits neither the U.S. nor Cuba and no longer has any effect in Cuba.

“If you keep on doing what you have always been doing, you are going to wind up getting what you already got. We are not hurting the Cuban government; we are hurting the Cuban people. It is time for a different policy,” said U.S. senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) in 2008.

Recent years have seen a stronger U.S. support for a changed relationship.

A 2009 Gallup poll of Americans showed 61 percent support reestablishing relations.

A poll taken by Florida International University in June 2014 illustrates an even stronger Cuban support, as it showed 79 percent Cuban-American support in southern Florida, and 73 percent nationwide.

The negotiations have, however, sparked criticism from Americans and Cuban-Americans alike, and have received opposition from congress.

“The president’s actions on Cuba have severely undermined the law because he has essentially recognized the Cuban government as legitimate,” said Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo.“The United States has offered one of the most generous immigration laws perhaps in history, and certainly that is being abused systematically.”

Many Cuban nationals feel the new relations would largely benefit the corrupt Cuban government more than the poor populous.

When interviewed by the Voice, Felipe Truttie, who was permitted to immigrate to the United States as a refugee on the Mariel boatlift of 1980, presented his knowledge of the real Cuba.

“Cuba’s embargo is an embargo on its own people, not between the government and the United States.” said Truttie. “As long as the government controls everything, the people will not receive the benefit.”

“All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power,” said Senator (R-Fl) Marco Rubio in a recent hearing.

The new relations would also allow for travel restrictions to be lifted.

The 2.2 million Cuban-American population, making up 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, largely depend on their ability to travel to their home country to provide for their families who still live there.

While those Cuban-Americans often have a specialized visa to visit their country, the corruption of the Cuban government, according to Truttie, extends to travel restrictions as well.

“I get a new visa every two years, and every two years I have to pay another $200,” said Truttie. “The government is very good at finding ways to make money.”

The President’s proposed policy changes will continue to be argued in Congress in the coming months.

“[The new relations] could do a lot of good for the Cuban people, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Truttie.