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  • America is opening up relations with Cuba, and it's a big deal, ending decades of hostility,

  • and beginning a new era between the two countries.

  • But to understand just how big of a deal , where that hostility really came from, and why it

  • took so long to end, you've go to go backway back, not to the 1950s as many Americans

  • think, but to the 1850s.

  • The story starts with America divided between pro-slavery and anti-slavery politics.

  • And one of their many fights is over the Spanish colony of Cuba.

  • Pro-slavery lawmakers want to buy Cuba from Spain, or take it by force, to turn into a

  • new slave state.

  • Anti-slavery politicians oppose this, calling it imperialism.

  • In 1898, after slavery ends, Americans have a different version of this argument again,

  • when Cubans rise up against Spain.

  • The US joins them, starting the Spanish-American war.

  • But Americans divide: should the US seize Cuba from Spain for itself, or liberate it?

  • This is part of a much bigger debate at the time over whether the US should explicitly

  • become a European-style imperial power.

  • So this is an argument about Cuba, but it's also an argument about America and what kind

  • of country it should be.

  • Should America be the kind of country that controls Cuba, or that respects it as a fellow

  • sovereign nation?

  • That argument has continued, in different forms, ever since

  • At this point, in 1898, the fight happens in Congress.

  • Each side passes laws trying to force their way.

  • It ends with a weird split-baby policy, with Cuba winning independence, but under quasi-imperial

  • rule.

  • The US would take over Guantanamo Bay, dictate Cuba's foreign policy, and give itself the

  • right to intervene in Cuban affairs.

  • Then come the next American interventions in Cuba, in 1906 and 1917.

  • Each time, the US military takes over for a few years, ostensibly to resolve some political

  • crisis, but that usually means protecting American interests, such as sugar imports.

  • Today, when Americans think about the US and Cuba, we think of the Cold War, but Cubans

  • often think back to this imperial era.

  • That era technically ends in 1933, with an uprising against Cuba's government.

  • Under US law, America is supposed to intervene, but President Franklin Roosevelt want to end

  • America's imperial era, so he declares neutrality.

  • Over the next 20 years, Cuba becomes a democracy, and one that's generally friendly with the

  • US.

  • That changes in 1952, when a former president and military leader named Fulgencio Batista

  • seizes power in a coup, suspends the constitution, and imposes an increasingly oppressive rule.

  • Cuba's Communist uprising begins the next year, led by a young Fidel Castro.

  • American politics at this point is obsessed with fears of communism, so the US backs Batista

  • in the war, no matter how brutal he becomes.

  • For Americans, this feels like a front in the struggle against communism.

  • But for Cubans, it feels like Batista is an extension of American imperialism, and the

  • guerrilla war a continuation of their long fight for freedom.

  • The communists win in 1959 and Castro takes power.

  • The US, fearing communism's expansion, sets up the embargo to strangle Cuba's economy,

  • tries to assassinate Castro, even, in the disaster known as Bay of Pigs, sends in CIA-trained

  • Cubans to try to take over the island.

  • Castro turns to the Soviets for help, and in 1962 they nearly start World War Three

  • when the US blocks Soviet efforts to put nuclear missiles in Cuba.

  • The incident scares everyone enough that things settle into a tense but peaceful status quo.

  • Over time, ordinary Cubans are squeezed between the US embargo and Castro's dictatorship.

  • In 1980, Castro tries to relieve some political dissent by briefly allowing Cubans to leave

  • the island, and 125,000 arrive in Florida.

  • No one realizes it at the time, but this adds a completely new dimension to the conflict.

  • It's now also about the internal Cuban battle between Castro and Cuban dissidents, which

  • plays out through American politics.

  • This becomes really important in the 1990s.

  • After the Soviet Union collapses, President Clinton, seeing Cuba poses no threat, wants

  • to end the conflict.

  • So does Castro, who can't count on Soviet aid any more.

  • But Cubans in America, who suffered terribly at Castro's hand, want to see him fall, and

  • push for keeping the embargo.

  • In 1996, Cuba shoots down two private planes chartered by Cuban-American activists.

  • There's a big backlash in the US, and Clinton backs down.

  • 20 years later, President Obama tries again to end the conflict.

  • By now, Americans don't really support the embargo.

  • Lots of Cuban-Americans are now economic migrants, rather than political exiles, so they want

  • openness.

  • Fidel is getting old, and in 2008 hands power to his brother Raul, who knows the country

  • needs to change.

  • The US and Cuba start secret talks in 2013.

  • The new Pope, Francis, helps negotiate.

  • In 2014, they reveal their agreement to end the conflict, and the next year Obama becomes

  • the first president to visit since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

  • The US and Cuba have never really had "normal" relations until now, and that's crucial to

  • understanding why it took so long for this to happen.

  • So much has passed between the two countries over the past century, and the US has at times

  • treated Cuba as more of a colony than a real country.

  • It's a lot to get over.

  • But it looks like they might both finally be ready.

America is opening up relations with Cuba, and it's a big deal, ending decades of hostility,

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A brief history of America and Cuba

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/23
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