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Diesel Whiskey Row

Cuban Cigars Interest Section

From JFK To Obama: A Brief History Of Cuban And U.S. Relations

December 2014 will be remembered as the first time in over 50 years that a U.S. president has officially savored the smell of a Cuban cigar since John F. Kennedy stockpiled a cache of his favorite Havanas just hours before he imposed a trade embargo on the Communist island. As the story goes, President Kennedy ordered his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, on February 2, 1962 to buy him as many of his favorite Cuban cigars (H.Upmann petit coronas) as he could get his hands on. President Kennedy even held off signing the Cuban trade embargo until the soon-to-be contraband was safely inside the White House. Salinger was given just a half-day to accomplish this task. The next morning, Salinger recalled in rare video footage of his storytelling, that he had bought approximately 1,200 of Cuba's finest exports – a tremendous feat that JFK applauded as 'Fantastic!' just before he signed the decree that banned all of the communist country's products from the United States. Although Washington already had some limited sanctions in place, Kennedy's decision was the beginning of a comprehensive ban on trade with Cuba that remained intact recently.

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba weren’t always so icy and date back well before Kennedy and Castro. Cuba and America began a rather chummy relationship in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. A defeated Spain signed over rights to its territories in the area, which included Puerto Rico, Guam, and Cuba, to America. The U.S. subsequently granted Cuba independence under the conditions that the U.S. could intervene in the internal affairs of the island (later relinquished) and that it be granted a permanent naval base in Guantanamo Bay. For the next 50 years, the U.S. and Cuba enjoyed a friendly relationship, with America helping to quell rebellions and heavily investing in the Cuban economy. Cuba even became an American mafia conference center in 1946.

Then came the Cuban Revolution, and on New Year’s Day 1959 everything changed. Fidel Castro and his guerillas successfully overthrew the government of President Fulgencio Batista. The United States, which supported Castro at the time, immediately recognized the new regime, although it expressed some concern over Castro’s increasingly communist tendencies. Castro was invited to the U.S. just three months later, and met with Vice President Richard Nixon, all while wearing his trademark green fatigues. It was a rare moment of friendship between the two countries, and one that would not be repeated for another 50 years.

By 1960, the Cuban government had seized private land, nationalized private companies, including several subsidiaries of U.S. corporations, and heavily taxed American imports. President Eisenhower responded by imposing severe trade restrictions on everything except food and medical supplies. Castro responded by expanding trade with the Soviet Union instead. The U.S. responded by cutting all diplomatic ties to Cuba, and the two countries have been talking through Switzerland ever since.

The early 1960s were tumultuous years filled with subversive, top-secret U.S. attempts to kill, maim or humiliate Fidel Castro. Perhaps the most famous of these events, the Bay of Pigs, was the CIA’s failed attempt to overthrow Castro by training Cuban exiles for a ground attack. Later attempts on Castro’s life consisted of everything from chemicals to make his beard fall out to exploding sea shells.

The darkest moment in the history between the U.S. and Cuba came on the morning of October 15, 1962 when American spy planes discovered that the Soviet Union was building missile bases in Cuba. President Kennedy learned of the threat the following morning while he was still wearing his pajamas, and for the next 12 days the U.S. and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear face-off commonly known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The incident was de-escalated only when Nikita Khrushchev accepted President Kennedy's secret proposal to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the disarming of Cuba. Within six months, the Soviet missiles were gone, but it would take much longer for America to forgive the nation that allowed them to be placed on her doorstep in the first place.

The U.S. strengthened its embargo in 1992 and again in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act after Cuba shot down two American civilian planes. The additional restriction applied the embargo to foreign countries that traded with Cuba not just with Cuba itself. The last decade has seen the U.S. tighten and then relax restrictions depending on the political climate. For example, a 2001 agreement to sell food to Cuba in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle has remained in place, which makes the United States Cuba's main supplier of food, with sales reaching $710 million in 2008.

President Obama's announcement in 2009 that he would lift remittance and travel restrictions for those that still had family in Cuba marked a small, but significant thaw in the U.S.'s position toward Havana. Back then, President Obama also agreed to let telecommunications companies pursue business in the country, which still has roughly the same number of phone lines as it did 60 years ago. President Raúl Castro, who took over for his brother Fidel after he underwent surgery in 2006, had indicated that he would like to open a dialogue with the U.S., which happened behind closed doors.

Much to the surprise of the world, the White House announced back in December 2014 that it was moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba.

"However, it seems that everything is going to change now, with the election of Donald Trump for President of The United States.
Mr. Trump has declared his intentions to undo many of Obama's executive orders and, specifically, to alter the current course of relationship with Cuba, unless the Cuban government takes positive action to address human rights and other issues that have been the core of the conflict with The U.S. we will be back at square one of the embargo against the island nation.
After Fidel Castro died in November 2016, new hopes for a dramatic change were rising but it is not unforeseeable that if the Cuban regime will not be willing to reciprocate with U.S. goodwill gestures this momentum will lead nowhere.

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