In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power over one of the United States’ closest neighbors, Cuba.  Since then, the two countries have been at odds. As the new Cuban régime began forming trade agreements with the Soviet Union, communalizing U.S.-owned properties, and increasing taxes on American imports, the U.S. responded with economic retribution.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower cut back imports measures for Cuban sugar, Cuba’s predominate industry since the early 19th century. Soon enough, Washington instituted a ban on nearly all exports to Cuba, which President John F. Kennedy developed into a full economic embargo that included rigorous travel restrictions.

Following the events of The Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred in 1961 to 1962, the economic embargo and diplomatic isolation has been a central feature of United States policy toward Cuba.

In return, Washington implemented an act which guaranteed that the embargo would not cease until Cuba would hold free and fair elections, and change to democracy that does not include the Castro dictatorship. In addition, Cuba would have to comply to granting its people some basic human rights, like the right to free press and the release of political prisoners.

The Change

After 18 months of secret talks, President Obama has announced his administration has ended the isolation of Cuba. According to CNN, lifting the embargo will ease travel restrictions, making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and engage in business there. Banks will start affairs, therefore allowing American travelers to use their credit and debit cards when traveling to Cuba. Americans who visit Cuba can now come back with $400 in Cuban goods, with up to a quarter spent on alcohol and tobacco products.

Cuba will release 53 political prisoners and relax its internet restrictions, and the U.S. will release three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.

Only Congress can completely end the trade embargo, but according to the White House, Obama has the authority to release certain restrictions under his jurisdiction.

The international community stands against the embargo.  Over the past two decades, the United Nations voted each year against the embargo asking the U.S. to reverse its policy.  Even within many politicians like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are calling for an end to the embargo saying, “we should advocate for the end of the embargo, we should advocate for normalizing relations and see what they do […] Probably the most important long-term commitment this country can make is to a much closer, more constructive relationship within our own hemisphere”.

Raul Castro, the brother of former dictator of Cuba, wanted an end to the embargo once he took power in 2008. Cuba’s economy has been suffering under the embargo, with damages being estimated at $1 trillion over the past five decades.

It’s fair to say Obama realizes what ten presidents didn’t; isolating Cuba will not work.

[Image Attribute: Ed Yourdon]