Our dear departed friend Bitohistory would have given us a wonderful history lesson. I’ll try to live up to his expectations.

Cuba and the US have had a long history of adversarial relations.


The largest island of the West Indies group (equal in area to Pennsylvania), Cuba is also the westernmost—just west of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and 90 mi (145 km) south of Key West, Fla., at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. The island is mountainous in the southeast and south-central area (Sierra Maestra). It is flat or rolling elsewhere. Cuba also includes numerous smaller islands, islets, and cays.


Communist state. Ruled by Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul.


Arawak (or Taino) Indians inhabiting Cuba when Columbus landed on the island in 1492 died from diseases brought by sailors and settlers. By 1511, Spaniards under Diego Velásquez had established settlements. Havana’s superb harbor made it a common transit point to and from Spain.

In the early 1800s, Cuba’s sugarcane industry boomed, requiring massive numbers of black slaves. A simmering independence movement turned into open warfare from 1867 to 1878. Slavery was abolished in 1886. In 1895, the poet José Marti led the struggle that finally ended Spanish rule, thanks largely to U.S. intervention in 1898 after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor.

An 1899 treaty made Cuba an independent republic under U.S. protection. The U.S. occupation, which ended in 1902, suppressed yellow fever and brought large American investments. The 1901 Platt Amendment allowed the U.S. to intervene in Cuba’s affairs, which it did four times from 1906 to 1920. Cuba terminated the amendment in 1934.

In 1933, a group of army officers, including army sergeant Fulgencio Batista, overthrew President Gerardo Machado. Batista became president in 1940, running a corrupt police state.

In 1956, Fidel Castro Ruz launched a revolution from his camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Castro’s brother Raul and Ernesto (Ché) Guevara, an Argentine physician, were his top lieutenants. Many anti-Batista landowners supported the rebels. The U.S. ended military aid to Cuba in 1958, and on New Year’s Day 1959, Batista fled into exile and Castro took over the government.

Revolution Leader Fidel Castro Breaks Ties with U.S. and Allies Himself with the Soviet Union

The U.S. initially welcomed what looked like a democratic Cuba, but within a few months, Castro established military tribunals for political opponents and jailed hundreds. Castro disavowed Cuba’s 1952 military pact with the U.S., confiscated U.S. assets, and established Soviet-style collective farms. The U.S. broke relations with Cuba on Jan. 3, 1961, and Castro formalized his alliance with the Soviet Union. Thousands of Cubans fled the country.

Bay of Pigs Disaster

In 1961, a U.S.-backed group of Cuban exiles invaded Cuba. Planned during the Eisenhower administration, the invasion was given the go-ahead by President John Kennedy, although he refused to give U.S. air support. The landing at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, was a fiasco. The invaders did not receive popular Cuban support and were easily repulsed by the Cuban military.

Soviet-Missile Crisis

A Soviet attempt to install medium-range missiles in Cuba—capable of striking targets in the United States with nuclear warheads—provoked a crisis in 1962. Denouncing the Soviets for “deliberate deception,” President Kennedy promised a U.S. blockade of Cuba to stop the missile delivery. Six days later, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the missile sites dismantled and returned to the USSR in return for a U.S. pledge not to attack Cuba.

The U.S. established limited diplomatic ties with Cuba on Sept. 1, 1977, making it easier for Cuban Americans to visit the island. Contact with the more affluent Cuban Americans prompted a wave of discontent in Cuba, producing a flood of asylum seekers. In response, Castro opened the port of Mariel to a “freedom flotilla” of boats from the U.S., allowing 125,000 to flee to Miami. After the refugees arrived, it was discovered that their ranks were swelled with prisoners, mental patients, homosexuals, and others unwanted by the Cuban government.

Cuba fomented Communist revolutions around the world, especially in Angola, where thousands of Cuban troops were sent during the 1980s.

Russian aid, which had long supported Cuba’s failing economy, ended when Communism collapsed in eastern Europe in 1990. Cuba’s foreign trade also plummeted, producing a severe economic crisis. In 1993, Castro permitted limited private enterprise, allowed Cubans to possess convertible currencies, and encouraged foreign investment in its tourist industry. In March 1996, the U.S. tightened its embargo with the Helms-Burton Act.

Christmas became an official holiday in 1997 as a result of Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba, raising hopes for greater religious freedom.

In June 2000, Castro won a publicity bonanza when the Clinton administration sent Elian Gonzalez, a young Cuban boy found clinging to an inner tube near Miami, back to Cuba. The U.S. Cuban community had demanded that the boy remain in Miami rather than be returned to his father in Cuba. By many accounts, the influential Cuban Americans lost public sympathy by pitting political ideology against familial bonds.

In March and April 2003, Castro sent nearly 80 dissidents to prison with long sentences, prompting an international condemnation of Cuba’s harsh suppression of human rights.

The Bush administration again tightened its embargo in June 2004, allowing Cuban Americans to return to the island only once every three years (instead of every year) and restricting the amount of U.S. cash that can be spent there to $50 per day. In response, Cuba banned the use of dollars, which had been legal currency in the country for more than a decade.

In July 2006, Castro—hospitalized because of an illness—temporarily turned over power to his brother Raúl. In October, it was revealed that Castro has cancer and will not return to power.

This is where I have some personal experience. I was in High School in Balboa, Panama, Canal Zone when the missile crisis happened. Dad was on “alert” all during the crisis. We were locked down inside Fort Clayton CZ. There was a certain electricity in the air. Fear that there would be an all out war was real. President Kennedy was forceful with the USSR and Cuba. The USSR and Cuba backed down!

In Poor Health Castro Announces His Retirement

Seventeen months after his emergency intestinal surgery, 81-year-old Castro released a public statement declaring that he was not healthy enough to campaign in the upcoming parliamentary elections, although he has not withdrawn from the election. Castro’s announcement on January 2008, was followed by a national television broadcast showing a recent meeting between Castro and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil where he told the Brazilian president that he was feeling very well.

During the Jan. 2008 parliamentary elections, both Fidel and Raúl Castro were reelected to the National Assembly as well as 614 unopposed candidates.

In Feb. 2008, Fidel Castro ended 49 years of power when he announced his retirement. The 81-year-old, who ruled Cuba since leading a revolution in 1959, said he would not accept another term as president. Raúl Castro succeeded his brother, becoming the 21st president of Cuba on Feb. 24, 2008.

Cubans Begin to Win Small Freedoms

At the UN in Feb. 2008, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The Covenants ensure citizens’ political and civil freedom, and guarantee the right to work, fair wages, social security, education, and high standards of physical and mental health. Roque also announced that in 2009 the United Nations Human Rights Council will be allowed to examine Cuba at will.

The government relaxed land restrictions for private farmers in July 2008, in an effort to boost the country’s poor food production and reduce dependence on food imports.

The U.S. Congress voted in March 2009 to repeal the long-standing restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting Havana and sending money into the country. President Obama has signaled a willingness to establish warmer ties with Cuba, a subtle acknowledgement that isolation has not been effective in forcing the Castro regime from power.

Castro made the surprise announcement in July 2010 that he plans to release 52 political prisoners. The prisoners—activists and journalists—have been held since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents. Fidel Castro said the activists were “mercenaries” acting at the request of the United States.

Cuba Takes Possible Steps Toward a New Leader Not Named Castro

On April 19, 2011, Cuba made the most significant change to its leadership in over 50 years, by appointing José Ramón Machado to fill the second-highest position in the Communist Party. It was the first time since the 1959 revolution that someone other than the Castro brothers has been named to the position. The appointment was made at the party’s first congress in 14 years and coincides with several changes being made to allow for more private enterprise in Cuba.

In October 2011, buying and selling cars became legal. Also, Raul Castro started allowing Cubans to go into business for themselves in a variety of approved jobs, from accounting to food vendors. The following month, the government began allowing real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the days immediately following the revolution. A new law, applying only to permanent residents, went into effect on November 10. The law, an effort to prevent massive real estate holdings, limits Cubans to owning one home in the city and one in the country. The new law also requires that all new real estate transactions be made through Cuban bank accounts for regulation purposes.

In December 2011, the government pardoned more than 2,900 prisoners. Of those pardoned, 86 were foreigners; however, Alan Gross was not one of them. Gross, an American contractor, has served a 15-year sentence since 2009 for distributing satellite telephone equipment in Cuba. His case has dampened President Obama’s efforts to improve relations between the United States and Cuba.

Pope Makes Long-Awaited Visit

On March 26, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba. The three-day visit came after years of tension between the church and the Cuban government. It was the first papal trip since Pope John Paul II visited 14 years ago. During his visit, Pope Benedict XVI, pushing for Cuba toward freedom, said, “I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons.”

Around 200,000 attended the Mass in Santiago de Cuba, including people from as far as Miami. However, many attendees said they were pressured to attend by employers or members of the Communist Party. One attendee was removed by security after he started shouting negative comments about the government.

Exit Visa Requirement Is Dropped

On October 16, 2012, the government announced that in early 2013 Cubans would no longer be required to have an exit visa when leaving the country. This new policy was promised by President Raúl Castro in 2011 as a way to answer the rising calls for change by Cubans.

The new policy states that as of January 13, 2013, Cubans could leave the country on vacations or forever. They would only need a valid passport and a visa from the country of their destination. It also stated that Cubans could stay abroad longer, up to two years before they lose their citizenship and benefits. However, the new policy also stated that Cubans could be stopped from leaving the country for “defense and national security” reasons. This part of the new law suggested that while Castro and the Cuban government were answering the demands for change, they were also maintaining tight control of political dissidents.

Cuba Resumes Diplomatic Relations with U.S.

The Cuban government freed U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, who had been in captivity for five years, on Dec. 17, 2014. Gross had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 after his effort to create a way to communicate outside of the Cuban government’s control. The government cited humanitarian grounds as the reason for Gross’ release.

In response to the prisoner release, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which includes opening an embassy in Havana. There hasn’t been any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961. The prisoner release was part of a deal negotiated in secret over 18 months. Canada hosted most of the talks that led to the deal. Pope Francis also hosted a meeting at the Vatican to help with negotiations between the two countries.

Okay I got all the above except my short piece of experience from

So, don’t think I’m really smart or something. The person who is smart , in my opinion is our President! He and Pope Francis are two people I admire a great deal.

More personal thoughts; When I was in Vietnam I saw many of our soldiers killed and wounded, yet we have diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Cuba never killed 50,000 Americans, but we have ostracized Cuba! Why? Why have we not done what President Obama has just done long ago?

In my opinion this is one thing that will help far more than sanctions. Diplomacy works!

President Obama has added to the long list of accomplishments of his Presidency. I’m very proud of America right now and certainly PROUD of my President!

I’ll end the way I usually do, asking for your thoughts, questions, and opinions on this “Bit-o-history”.

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I never understood how the old Cuban exiles have been able to fool Americans. As you stated Fulgencio Batista was a dictator who suspended all civil liberties and suppressed the people. Indeed, under his regime Cubans; particularly Cubans with “African features” were denigrated. In fact, Cruz’s father’s behavior; particularly his not so veiled racism towards the Prez, is emblematic of that generation and how it felt about the majority of Cubans.

Those who fled Castro were part of the Batista’s corrupt authoritarian regime that exploited and abused poor cubans in despicable ways. They were happy with American corporations and Americans treating Cuba like a low-class brothel and they profited greatly from this arrangement.

These people were hardly freedom fighters or pro-democracy heroes. They were banana-republicans who were angry that their gravy train ended.

Had the Bay of Pigs been successful, they would have installed another Caribbean-south american fascist state replete with Death Squads (as in Nicaragua, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile). But I guess they would have been our human-right violating “anti-communist” criminals and thus everything would have been fine………..

The present Cuban government is no worse than Russia and China. And we can definitely make a legitimate claim that it is certainly better than the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is time to normalize relations.


Rubio is a stupid wanna be,he will NEVER be President


hopefully he will be out in the next cycle


Good post Nirek.It is past time that this should have happened.The President keeps adding to his legacy,lame duck be damned!


Rubio should be ashamed of himself as his only interest is in the people who vote for him and not those still living in poverty in Cuba or those who risk their lives trying to make it to the U.S.

Time will prove this blustering fool wrong of course, and since when does he have a monopoly on how all Cubans think?

Thank you for a very informative article, Nirek, and I know that bito would have been delighted.

I vote for Pope Francis, and am so very proud of your President.


“Rubio’s fury over the Cuba shift shows why Obama made the right move”

These two from this morning’s MB.

Mr. Obama’s Historic Move on Cuba

The president’s bold decision ushers in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered long enough.




This is very helpful, Nirek, thank you! May I add in a note of lost history? In 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, one of the people who helped forge the stand-down was then pope, John XXIII. The story was told in Saturday Review, now defunct, and it interested me then as the current story does now. Pope Francis may well be re-opening a period of peace by following in his predecessor’s footsteps. It’s a nice bit of historical ‘closure’ with the circle coming around 52 years after the first effort.


Nirek, Thanks for the post!

What seems so striking is the PTSD that many of the older Cuban refugees in FL are suffering from when they rant and break down about Cuba. They are clearly all emotion and little logic but it is understandable that people who were treated so harshly would harbor such immutable hatreds and upset.

But should a country make decisions based on the irrational emotional trauma that older Cubans are suffering from? Polls show that younger Cuban Americans support Obama and the US opening up relations with Cuba. They are the undamaged ones and they seek a better future for Cuba while their parents’ generation just wants vengeance and spite as US policy.

They and the pandering Repubs all blather about how Obama is so wrong and that the 50 years of failure to change Cuba’s government into a US-style democracy using an embargo should continue indefinitely. It’s the definition of crazy, trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome.

Half a century of failure and these types would rather have a century of failure than any progress at all.

They don’t protest our trade and relationships with other communist countries like China and Vietnam or other nations that have repressive regimes, they don’t demand that those nations too must first become US-style democracies before we should trade with or recognize them, just Cuba.

The Cuban refugees in FL have every right to their opinions but US policy shouldn’t be based on pandering to help a party’s Presidential candidate win Florida. But unfortunately, for the Repubs, it is.


Nirek, thank you so much — not only for a concise and clear summary of the history of relations between the US and Cuba — but also for a touching tribute to our late friend Bitohistory (or just “bito,” as he was known here on the Planet).

I’m proud of the President for making this move too. As you said, it’s long overdue. It can only help both countries to drop 50 years of fruitless animosity.

Isn’t it ridiculous that people like Marco Rubio are ranting about how much they object to this policy change, when (as you noted) the US has diplomatic relations with Vitenam after a much more complex history there?

And then there’s the issue of China. Tell us again, Mr. Rubio, how we shouldn’t even consider having diplomacy and trade with a Communist nation? The GOP will never take prizes for their intellectual consistency, that’s for sure.

Good for Pope Francis for lending a hand in clearing the path for this to happen too. Yesterday was his birthday, and I truly hope he’s around for a lot more of them because I do like what I’ve seen so far!


Good history lesson, Pop 🙂

It’s possible that opening up ties to Cuba doesn’t help in the long term, but if nothing else at least Obama is trying something new instead of sticking to the past 50 years of failed policy in regards to Cuba.

Also another accomplishment for Pope Francis in a long line of pretty amazing things since he took on Pope-i-ness (Pope-i-tude? whatever) 🙂

Naturally the Republicans don’t like it because Obama did it, and Faux-News doesn’t like to mention the 50-something political prisoners also being released by Cuba as part of this. Go figure.


Also this:

“Rubio dismissed the suggestion that he is out of step with a younger generation of Cubans in Florida.

“I don’t care if the polls say that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” he said. “I still think that before we can normalize relations in Cuba, democracy has to come first, or at least significant steps toward democracy.””

….so a guy supposedly representing the people only cares what the 1% think. He said it himself. What a toolshed.