On Sunday, March 20, 2016, President Obama made a historic journey to Havana. While he was there, Obama met with President Castro and, as he addressed the Cuban people, said their nation and the United States were like brothers. Obama is the first president in 88 years to visit the neighboring country. During his visit, Obama attended several events in hopes of increasing relations between the two countries.
Prior to the Great Depression, President Calvin Coolidge visited Havana in 1928. Coolidge, the First Lady, and their two daughters took a motorcade to the presidential mansion. The Cuban government went through great pains to ensure the Coolidge family’s comfort. The Cuban president at the time, Gerardo Machado, renovated an entire floor of the presidential mansion for this occasion.
The Washington Post archives reported that during the trip, Coolidge and his wife strictly obeyed U.S. law. When offered some cocktails, the couple refused as Prohibition was still in effect.
The next major development in the history of the two nations occurred when Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries took power from Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Shortly after, Castro visited the U.S. to meet with Vice President Richard Nixon and took a tour of the nation’s capital. During his tour, Castro laid wreaths at the feet of both the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
One year later, President Eisenhower placed an economic embargo on Cuba. In 1961, all diplomatic ties were severed. Since that time, relations between the two countries have ebbed and flowed depending on which U.S. president was in office. NPR stated that while former President Jimmy Carter seemed willing to work with Havana, Ronald Reagan sought to cut ties completely. Former President Bill Clinton pushed to ease travel restrictions while George W. Bush refused to work with Castro.
In a political stalemate, which has outlasted 10 U.S. Presidents, it appears as though both sides are finally ready to sit down at the table. President Obama, during his historic trip, gave a speech to the people of Havana saying, “[The U.S.] and Cuba are like two brothers that have been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.”
For the first time in 88 years, leaders of both countries have met in Havana. Having spent so many years in conflict with one another, the two heads-of-state had many things to discuss.
Some of the concerns talked about during their meetings dealt with issues that exist within the island nation. According to the BBC News, the leaders talked about increasing health standards, especially with combating the Zika virus. Free speech was also an element of negotiations. Obama witnessed the arrest of many dissidents and had the opportunity to speak to them, as well as journalists. The country does not enjoy the freedom of the press, as the U.S. does, but instead, it has state-run media.
The two also discussed issues that would help bring the countries closer together. One of the major topics for Obama, as stated by BBC News, was Havana’s choice to grant asylum to American fugitives. Several wanted criminals reside in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, accused of murdering a New Jersey state trooper. Obama was seeking the cooperation of the Cuban government in the extradition of these criminals.
However, ending the economic embargo against Cuba was the primary focus of discussion. The Fiscal Times indicated that, since the embargo took place in October 1960, the Cuban economy has lost over $116 billion in U.S. dollars, cumulatively. The Fiscal Times stated that, while over time this figure only amounts to between five to seven percent of the nation’s economy, the amount of missed opportunity from foreign investment could not be measured.
This is truly a monumental event in regards to these two neighbors. President Obama said the U.S. and Cuba have much in common, and during his time on this historic trip, he has set about improving relations between the two countries.
By Harrison Baker
Edited by Leigh Haugh
BBC News: What the US wanted – and got – from Cuba
NPR: The last time a president visited Cuba was 1928. It was a very big deal back then, too.
The Fiscal Times: Seven Takeaways From Obama’s Visit to Cuba
The Fiscal Times: Cuba’s Economy Is Going to Need More Than Just U.S. Investment
Image Courtesy of Les Haines’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License