Monday marks the fifth anniversary of restored diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States amid escalating U.S. blockade on the island.
The historic rapprochement spearheaded by former U.S. president Barack Obama in 2014 was soon rolled back by his successor, Donald Trump, who has ramped up sanctions against Cuba since taking office in 2017.
“Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in the past five years can be divided into two different periods … the implementation of the Obama policy toward the island and Donald Trump’s three and a half years in the White House,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat.
On December 17, 2014, Obama and his Cuban counterpart at the time Raul Castro made historic statements that started a new chapter of bilateral relations devoted to enhancing economic and social ties. In July, 2015, they resumed diplomatic relations and reopened embassies in each other’s capital.
Although the blockade on the island was not lifted by the U.S. Congress, the two countries generated particular interests since the joint announcement: U.S. investment in Cuba and U.S. tourism to Cuba.
Warming ties led to their respective embassies being reopened. Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in nearly a century, and was soon followed by a steady flow of lawmakers and regional leaders looking to boost trade. Air connections between the two countries were re-established in 2016 and Americans began to travel to the island in greater numbers.
The Obama administration even ended the longstanding “wet foot, dry foot” policy in 2017, which granted special migratory treatment to Cubans and allowed them to remain in the United States as permanent residents.
However, the situation soon changed. When campaigning for the president, Trump courted the financial and political backing of the powerful Cuban lobby by pledging to reverse course on Cuba if elected president, and he has kept his word.
In 2019, U.S. flights to all Cuban cities except Havana were once again restricted and U.S. cruise ships were banned from sailing to Cuban ports. The Trump White House has even put limits on remittances Cuban Americans can send to their families back home, and blocked Cuban entrepreneurs’ access to raw materials in the U.S. market.
In addition to stepping up economic sanctions against Cuba, the U.S. government has stoked hostility and animosity towards Cuba.
In 2017, the United States accused Cuba of carrying out “acoustic attacks” against U.S. diplomatic personnel there, alleging some suffered from impaired hearing and other ailments. Washington then cut back its embassy staff, hampering the process of issuing U.S. visas.
In April, there was an armed attack on the Cuban embassy in Washington, which the White House failed to condemn. On May 13, the United States added Cuba to the list of countries that do not fully cooperate with its counter-terrorism efforts.
“While diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States have not been severed, the diplomatic staff at the two embassies have been reduced to a minimum due to the U.S.’ false allegations of sonic attacks,” said Alzugaray.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only deteriorated ties further, as the United States has interfered with international aid getting to the island and attempted to discredit Cuban medical brigades working abroad to contain outbreaks of the virus in more than 20 countries in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. “I think the bilateral relationship is going through a very tough, difficult, and complicated scenario,” Alzugaray added.