Obama pushes to bring end to Soviet-era Cuban embargo

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By Olivier Truquet

On Dec. 14, 2014, President Barack Obama publically announced that the United States had “changed its relationship with the People of Cuba.”

This diplomatic reconciliation is one of the most important in the history of the United States and Cuba, as it ends about 50 years of political, economic and cultural frictions between the two nations.

During January 1961, the Eisenhower administration started planning a secret military operation, known today as the Bay of Pigs invasion, in response to the coup d’etat led by communist leader Fidel Castro.

The new Cuban president replaced the dictator Fulgencio Batista, who had built strong diplomatic relations with the U.S. government and profitable economic contracts with prominent American businessmen.

Following the coup, Castro implemented dramatic measures to diminish the influence of Americans in Cuba, who were considered to be the cause of the extreme inequality within the population.

Castro nationalized entire industries where Americans had high economic stakes and started diplomatic discussions with the Soviet Union.

Newly elected U.S. president John F. Kennedy inherited the secret operation to diminish Castro’s political power from the previous administration.

Cuban officials were aware of the operation, and the Bay of Pigs invasion failed. This event deteriorated the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

Only a year later, in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis would lead the United States and the Soviet Union into fierce negotiations that would irrevocably harm their relations until today.

Castro had allowed the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles that directly threatened the security of the U.S., which created additional tensions between the two countries.

Although those events occurred more than 50 years ago, the embargo against Cuba symbolizes the difficult relationship between the two countries.

Lifting the embargo would require the approval of Congress and could take months, if not years.

However, Barack Obama stated in his announcement in December: “I am now taking steps to place the interest of the People of both countries at the heart of our policy.” The re-establishment of diplomatic discussions with Cuba puts an end to this difficult period for both nations and nourishes new political, economic and cultural hopes.

On Jan. 29, 2015, a bipartisan group of senators started working on legislation allowing American citizens to travel freely to Cuba.

Bloomberg L.P. reported that MasterCard would lift its hold on U.S. credit cards in Cuba as a result of the opening of the Cuban borders to U.S. tourists. Other major financial companies are expected to take similar steps in the coming months.

Although tourism is an important part of the plan to re-build political relationships with Cuba, the Obama administration and the Cuban government would like to extend the ease in policy to the agricultural sector and their diplomatic relationships, as well.

Furthermore, the renewal of diplomatic relations is expected to improve human rights on the island.

In 1997, the American Association for World Health reported that the U.S. embargo against Cuba had terrible consequences for the population, causing malnutrition as well as difficult access to potable water and medicine.

From a political perspective, the embargo has enabled the Cuban government to justify its very strong leadership weakening the voice of political dissidents and human rights activists.

Nevertheless, with the change in the diplomatic relationship and the mutual opening of borders, the universal ideals of freedom and liberty of expression may travel, as well.

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