President Obama and President Fidel Castro’s brother-successor Raul shook hands symbolically at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013 in Soweto. This augured better US-Cuba relations. They had been sour for a long time.
Fidel Castro led a guerrilla army to drive dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959. The communist takeover destroyed ties with the US as companies were expropriated and they became enemies.
But a Cold War friendship bloomed as Havana cosied up with Moscow.
Washington decided to remove Castro by force. On 17th April, 1961, 1,500 Cuban exiles took part in the disastrous Bay of Pigs assault, conceived under Eisenhower, CIA-funded and launched by Kennedy.
Castro got wind of the plan, foiled it, and the US never forgave him.
The Cuban Missile Crisis tested Kennedy’s abilities more than ever. In February 1962, spy planes spotted Soviet ballistic nuclear weapon silos in Cuba. The world came to the brink of nuclear war.
Kennedy ordered a naval blockade, then he and Khrushchev in the Kremlin negotiated a military non-intervention standdown.
The historic embargo on trade endures to this day, with a few exceptions.
Moscow stepped in to subsidise almost all of Cuba’s economy, notably sugar, powerful buddy to the Western Hemisphere’s only Marxist nation.
When the USSR dissolved in 1991, Havana had nowhere to turn to. Living standards in Cuba crashed.
Ordinary Cubans built rafts to escape illegally to Florida. The US Coast Guard intercepted tens of thousands, the peak in 1994. One of those who drowned was the mother of little Elian Gonzalez, in 2000. Like many, the boy was sent back, while others were allowed to stay in the US.
Washington then legislated to let US farm exports go to Cuba, but the island is still a bottom exporter.
Reforms innovated, so Cubans could launch small businesses; buying and selling property and consumer goods was legalised, but it’s like a land that time forgot for salaries.
Rejoining modern market economy materialism is still in the future.