The US has recently announced that it will move towards normalising diplomatic relations with Cuba, meaning that US embassy in Havana will be reopened and normal communication will be restored. But why were relations broken off in the first place and what does this decision mean for the island?
The US originally broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, when the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro. Castro perceived the US as acting as imperialist and as a result purged any US influence from Cuba, expropriating US owned land and businesses. Due to Cuba’s close association with the Soviet Union the US saw Castro as a Bulwark of communism in its own back yard, spreading the ideology and influence of the USSR across Latin America in the Cold War era.
There are hopes that the normalisation of diplomatic ties could lead to a more positive and beneficial relationship between the two countries rather than the tense stand-off that appears to have existed since the 1950s. US President Barack Obama said recently that it was clear that 50 years of isolation had simply not worked, and that it was time for a new approach based on engagement.
A key issue that will be discussed by both countries will be the potential removal of the trade embargo imposed on Cuba by the US after the Castro government came to power, which has remained in force for over 50 years. The terms of the embargo prevent any US companies from doing business in Cuba or exporting to the island – it is estimated that this costs the US economy around $1.2 billion a year. Although the terms of the embargo were loosened in 2009, it has been continually condemned by the United Nations. Some have blamed the embargo for increased disease and poverty in Cuba.
Travel restrictions on the Island that were implemented by the US, preventing the majority of its citizens from travelling to Cuba, could also be relaxed. Currently travel is only allowed to Cuba This could produce a ‘tourism boom’ for Cuba as Americans come and enjoy the attractions of a country that has been closed to them for many years. Tourism is already a major part of the Cuban economy, contributing $8.3 billion to Cuba’s GDP in 2014. It already brings many people from other parts of the world on to the island and serves as a catalyst for foreign investment.
Cuba is also likely to become more informed and open as a result of normalisation. The deal that was made between Cuba and the US includes provision for “The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world”. This includes devices which will enable access to the internet, a luxury currently only enjoyed by 15.8%. This could have a dramatic impact on the attitudes of the Cuban people and could cause major political change.