In January 1959 when Fidel Castro led a guerrilla army to drive dictator Fulgencio Batista out of Havana, the United States was not over alarmed that it would have much impact. But relations swiftly soured as the Cuban communists expropriated companies; 1961 ushered in an ideological ice age.
Washington decided to remove Castro by force. On 17th April, Cuban exiles took part in the island’s Bay of Pigs invasion, conceived under Eisenhower, launched by Kennedy and funded by the CIA — but it failed.
As plan B, Washington imposed an economic embargo. Cold War comrade Moscow, however, was happy to help Havana.
In February 1962, spy planes spotted Soviet nuclear weapon silos in Cuba, threatening the US. The Cuban Missile Crisis sorely tested Kennedy’s abilities, until he and Khrushchev in the Kremlin negotiated a stand down.
Cold War proxy battles continued to be fought around the world. In 1982, the US listed Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, for its role aiding revolutionaries in Africa and Latin America.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had been subsidising the Cuban economy. But when the USSR dissolved in 1991, Havana had nowhere to turn to. Living standards in the Western Hemisphere’s only Marxist nation crashed.
Ordinary Cubans built rafts to escape to Florida. For six months in 1980 the two governments had agreed on a mass migration. This time it was illegal, and 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, after a seven-month legal battle. Havana claimed a political victory as he was reunited with his father, although others were allowed to stay in the US.
In 2002, former US president Jimmy Carter, visiting Cuba, joined a growing chorus of Americans calling for the embargo to be eased. Washington then legislated to let US farm exports go to Cuba, but the island’s exports remain low.
In 2011, Fidel Castro’s younger brother Raul formally took his place as president. Economic reforms allowed Cubans to launch small businesses, and buying and selling property and consumer goods was legalised.
President Obama and President Raul Castro shook hands symbolically at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013 in Soweto, hinting at better US-Cuba relations.
In December 2014, Obama and Castro simultaneously announced a process toward normalising relations.
In April this year, the two leaders met on the margins of the Americas Summit.
In May, Washington dropped Cuba from the terrorist blacklist.
But Congress still has not ended the trade embargo.