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Cuba - US Relations

Cuba has been a fixture on the pariah nation short list since the early 1960’s, when the United States responded to Castro’s adoption of a one-party Marxist system and repression by breaking relations and embargoing commerce. The Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), the Cuban missile crisis (1962), and Cuban troops as Soviet Union surrogates in Africa (1970s and 1980s) have been major but by no means the only source of mutual tension and confrontation. The United States has responded to durable Cuban intransigence and misrule with additional legislation reflecting a strong Executive-Legislative Branch consensus on the need to further tighten the screws.

The United States established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba in 1902, opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana in 1923. Later it was moved to the building that it currently occupies, opened in 1953. The Embassy was closed in 1961 when the United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. During President Carter’s administration in 1977, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement establishing the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. Both diplomatic missions operated under the protection of the Embassy of Switzerland.

During the term of President Obama, diplomatic ties between the two countries were resumed with the Embassy of the United States of America re-opening in Havana and the Cuban embassy re-opening in Washington, D.C. Diplomatic relations were officially established on July 20, 2015. John Kerry became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years when he came to Havana for the U.S. Embassy’s flag raising ceremony on August 14, 2015.

President Obama had worked for nearly two years with Castro and others in the Cuban governmentto re-start relations between Cuba and the US, culminating in early 2016 in the first direct flights between the two countries in 50 years and the reopening of embassies. The relaxed regulations introduced by Obama made it easier for Americans to bring products back from Cuba, allowed more access for doctors to work with Cuban researchers on medical investigations and ended the 180-day ban on ships docking at U.S. ports after leaving Cuba. Obama also visited Cuba March 21-22, 2016,, marking the first time a U.S. president had stepped foot in Cuba since Calvin Coolidge did in 1928.

During President Obama's second term in office, commercial flights and cruise ship travel between the United States and Cuba also resumed, as well as direct mail delivery. Several agreements were also assigned between the United States and Cuba to collaborate on various topics, including health, environment, drug and human trafficking, and telecommunications.

President-elect Joe Biden’s team planned to bring the U.S. closer to normalized relations with Cuba, reversing many of the sanctions and regulations imposed during the Trump administration. That strategy includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation that are perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans, said the people, who requested anonymity because the new administration is still coming together. Other measures that target Cuba for human rights abuses would remain in place.

"Despite expectations to the contrary, the Biden administration will gravitate and navigate an international policy framed by the center-right rather than the center-left,' John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a nonpartisan and not-for-profit business organization, wrote November 09, 2020. "The Biden administration will encounter a larger, less-porous and media-savvy congressional firewall that may limit, perhaps consistently or intermittently during his four-year term, robust re-engagement with the Republic of Cuba," as Kavulich sees it.

The Biden Administration will be guided by then-candidate Joseph Biden’s statements during the 2020 campaign about the ineffectiveness of Trump Administration policies towards the Republic of Cuba and Venezuela:

“We have to vote for a new Cuba policy as well,” Biden said. “Trump is the worst possible standard-bearer for democracy in places like Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea. Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago. Trump loves to talk tough, but he doesn’t care about the Cuban and Venezuelan people. He won’t even grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing the oppressive Maduro regime. I will, but we have to vote.” The Miami Herald (29 October 2020).

“Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago.” “President Trump can’t advance democracy and human rights for the Cuban people or the Venezuelan people, for that matter, when he has praised so many autocrats around the world.” The New York Times (29 October 2020)

Juan Gonzalez, special assistant to the President and senior director for the Western Hemisphere on the U.S. National Security Council, stated in an interview with CNN 08 Abril 2021 that President Joe Biden "is not Barack Obama" with regards to U.S.-Cuba policy. While campaigning, then presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stated that he would "in large part" go back to the Obama-era policy of engagement with Cuba, and, later in the campaign, then-candidate Biden said that he would reverse President Donald Trump's Cuba policies that "have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights."

In a press briefing 23 sapril 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that a shift in U.S.-Cuba policy is not one of the Biden-Harris administration's top foreign policy priorities. Psaki's statement came in response to a question asking why President Joe Biden has not shown more movement regarding U.S. sanctions on Cuba and if the Administration had a reaction to then-First Secretary Raúl Castro's plan to step down from his role as head of Cuba's Communist Party. In her response, Psaki reiterated that the Administration's policy toward Cuba would be governed by two principles: "support for democracy and human rights" and "our belief that Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity" in Cuba. Even though "a Cuba policy shift or additional steps" on Cuba policy are not among the President's foreign policy priorities, Psaki stated that U.S.-Cuba policy is an issue the Administration "will remain engaged in and focused on."

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