The Cold War ended 30 years ago, but U.S.-Cuba relations appear moored to that bygone era during which fears of international Communism pervaded American society.
From the Bay of Pigs to CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, the history of U.S. antagonism toward its Communist neighbor 90 miles from Florida continues to weigh on official policy and public attitudes.
“One of the reasons we put so much pressure on is because Cuba is a very short distance off our coast and we’ve had a torrid history with Cuba of intervening in their affairs,” said Ivan Eland, a foreign policy scholar at the Independent Institute, in this episode of the History As It Happens podcast.
The U.S. has maintained an embargo on the island nation since the Kennedy administration, a coercive economic measure kept in place by domestic political pressures more than a half century after Castro’s revolution toppled the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. President Biden is imposing more sanctions on Cuba’s leaders amid calls to aggressively confront the Communist regime for its crackdown on last month’s historic protests.
“The Cubans in Miami and South Florida are a very potent political force,” said Mr. Eland. Their influence has made it politically difficult to lift an embargo that has exacerbated Cuba’s economic inefficiencies, he said.
In early July, thousands of Cubans filled the streets in the largest demonstrations since the 1990s. They were infuriated by hardships such as food and power shortages and a delayed COVID-19 inoculation program. Cuba ended the month with its most coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
The electricity in the streets did not last. The regime’s secret police arrested thousands of protesters. They will be prosecuted in mass trials whose outcome is a foregone conclusion.
The explosion of public discontent and ensuing crackdown refocused attention on a relationship that once consumed Cold Warriors on both sides of the ideological spectrum. With the USSR extinct and tiny Cuba posing no threat to the United States, tensions eased even as the embargo remained. It was only five years ago that a U.S. president visited Havana to deliver a historic address in a bid to normalize relations.
President Obama’s diplomatic initiative to usher U.S.-Cuba relations out of the Cold War and into the 21st century was short-lived. And the burden of history may prove to be too great for Mr. Biden, should he also seek to end six decades of conflict with one of the last five remaining Communist countries. (China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam are the others.)
“It’s hard to watch oppression and Americans do not like to see it,” Mr. Eland said of the Biden administration’s latest round of sanctions. But sanctions on Cuba have hurt ordinary people while doing little to subvert the Communist regime. “The United States allows the [Cuban] regime to have a crutch for its economic inefficiencies but also it can claim that any protesters are U.S. lackeys,” he said.
For more of Mr. Eland’s observations about U.S.-Cuba relations, as well as an update on Biden administration policy from The Washington Times national security team leader Guy Taylor, listen to this episode of History As It Happens.