History of US - Cuba relations 1959 - 2022
Fidel Castro establishes a revolutionary socialist state in Cuba after he and a group of guerrilla fighters successfully revolt against President Fulgencio Batista. Batista, who had been supported by the U.S. government for his anticommunist stance, flees the country after seven years of dictatorial rule. Castro gradually strengthens relations with the Soviet Union.
Castro nationalizes all foreign assets in Cuba, hikes taxes on U.S. imports, and establishes trade deals with the Soviet Union. President Dwight D. Eisenhower retaliates by slashing the import quota for Cuban sugar, freezing Cuban assets in the United States, imposing a near-full trade embargo, and cutting off diplomatic ties with the Castro government.
1961 Bay of Pigs
Executing a plan developed and approved by the Eisenhower administration, President John F. Kennedy deploys a brigade of 1,400 CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro. The Cuban military defeats the force within three days, after several mishaps disadvantage the invaders and reveal U.S. involvement. Despite the failed invasion, U.S. administrations over the next several decades conduct covert operations against Cuba.
1962 Full Embargo Announced
The Kennedy administration imposes an embargo on Cuba that prohibits all trade. Cuba, whose economy greatly depended on trade with the United States, loses approximately $130 billion over the next nearly sixty years, according to Cuban government and United Nations estimates.
October 14 – 28, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
U.S. spy satellites discover that Cuba has allowed the Soviet Union to build nuclear missile bases on the island. In response, Kennedy demands the Soviet weapons be removed and orders a naval quarantine of Cuba, igniting a thirteen-day standoff. With the threat of nuclear war on the horizon, the United States negotiates with the USSR via back channels. As the crisis nears its third week, Kennedy secretly agrees to withdraw U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey within a few months if the Soviet Union withdraws its missiles from Cuba. Kennedy also pledges not to invade Cuba. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev accepts the deal and announces that he will order the missiles removed. The following July, Kennedy prohibits U.S. nationals from traveling to Cuba.
1966 US opens asylum door
Castro indicates in a September 1965 speech that Cubans can leave for the United States of their own free will, saying that “nobody who wants to go need go by stealth.” Days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson announces he will open U.S. borders to all Cubans and signs into law an immigration bill that gives preference to Cuban migrants with family ties to U.S. citizens or residents. The U.S. State Department estimates that some 270,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States since Castro took power. In November 1966, Johnson enacts a law that allows Cubans who reach the United States to pursue permanent residency after one year.
1977 A modest diplomatic step
President Jimmy Carter reaches an agreement with Castro to resume a limited diplomatic exchange, allowing officials from the two countries to communicate regularly. The United States opens an interests section with a small staff in its former embassy in Havana under the auspices of the Swiss embassy. Switzerland had taken over U.S. interests in Cuba in 1961. Meanwhile, Cuba opens an interests section in Washington, DC, under the auspices of the embassy of Czechoslovakia.
1980 Mariel Boat Lift
Cuba faces intense pressure from thousands of Cubans hoping to flee the country as its economy suffers from a spike in oil prices and the continued U.S. embargo. Following a forty-eight-hour debacle in which ten thousand Cubans crowded at the gates of the Peruvian embassy to gain asylum, Castro states that anyone wishing to leave Cuba for Florida may do so from Mariel Harbor over the next six months. President Carter welcomes Cubans to the United States “with open arms,” and as many as 125,000 Cubans take part in the boatlift.
1982 U.S. Labels Cuba a Terrorism Sponsor
President Ronald Reagan designates Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, censuring the Castro government for providing support to militant communist groups in African and Latin American countries including Angola, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Cuba maintains that “acts by legitimate national liberation movements cannot be defined as terrorism,” according to a U.S. State Department report. Due to the heavy economic sanctions already in place, the designation is largely a symbolic act.
1985 U.S. Launches Radio Service for Cubans
Radio Marti begins broadcasting news and entertainment programming to Cuba from studios in the United States. The federally funded station was proposed by Reagan in 1981 and created by Congress two years later. The Cuban government condemns the service as U.S. propaganda, jams the new station’s broadcasts, and calls its use of independence hero Jose Marti’s name a “gross insult.” Castro suspends an immigration agreement that would have allowed up to twenty thousand Cubans a year to immigrate to the United States and provided for the repatriation of some three thousand Cubans with criminal records or who suffer from mental illness. Cuba also halts visits by Cubans living in the United States.
1992 U.S. Tightens Sanctions After Soviet Collapse
President George H.W. Bush signs the Cuban Democracy Act, which increases U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba. The move follows the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, with Bush stating that Cuba’s “special relationship with the former Soviet Union has all but ended. And we’ve worked to ensure that no other government helps this, the cruelest of regimes.” The statute bars vessels that have exchanged goods with Cuba in the previous 180 days from docking at U.S. ports and prohibits foreign subsidiaries of U.S. businesses from trading with Cuba. The legislation also limits the amount of U.S. currency traded with Cuba. The act does, however, offer a path to normalizing relations that is conditioned on Castro’s government making significant economic and political reforms.
1996 Helms-Burton Act Signed Into Law
Clinton signs the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, better known as the Helms-Burton Act, which tightens and codifies the U.S. embargo. It comes several weeks after the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes over waters off of Florida.
1999 Elian Gonzalez Sparks Controversy
The case of five-year-old Elian Gonzalez, the sole survivor of an attempt by his mother and ten others to reach the United States by boat, ignites a media storm.
2000 Cuba Finds New Partner in Chavez
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signs an agreement with Castro allowing Venezuela to send oil to Cuba at a heavy discount in return for Cuban support in education, health care, science, and technology.
2008 Changing of the Guard
Fidel Castro, announcing that due to his declining health he can no longer serve as president of Cuba, hands over the presidency to his brother, Raul, who had served as second-in-command of the government and a general in the armed forces.
2009 Obama Signals Potential Thaw
President Obama eases restrictions on travel and remittances, which had been tightened by his predecessor. The move allows Cuban-Americans to send unlimited funds to Cuba and permits U.S. citizens to travel there for religious and educational purposes. The step is widely considered the most notable move yet toward normalizing relations, though the trade embargo remains in place.
2011 - 2013 Economic Reform in Cuba
The Cuban government approves a slew of economic reforms in May 2011, allowing citizens to buy and sell residential real estate and automobiles, increasing bank lending, and expanding self-employment.
2014 A Move to Restore Diplomatic Ties
Barack Obama and Raul Castro announce they will restore full diplomatic ties following the exchange of a jailed U.S. intelligence officer for the three remaining Cuban Five prisoners. Gross is also released. The prisoner swap and release of Gross comes after nearly eighteen months of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials that were brokered, in part, by Pope Francis. Obama says the United States plans to reopen the embassy in Havana, while members of the Republican-controlled Congress condemn the move and vow to uphold the economic embargo.
2016 U.S. President Makes Historic Visit to Cuba
2017 Trump Reinstates Travel, Business Restrictions
President Donald Trump announces that he will reinstate restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and U.S. business dealings with a military-run conglomerate but will not break diplomatic relations.
2022 Biden Eases Trump-Era Sanctions
The White House lifts some restrictions on the island, including by expanding U.S. flights into the country, reestablishing a family reunification program, increasing visa processing, and lifting the remittance cap for families. It says the changes seek to “further support the Cuban people, providing them additional tools to pursue a life free from Cuban government oppression and to seek greater economic opportunities.”