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A Brief Account of America-Cuba Relations during the Cold War

The Cold War embodies the geopolitical tensions between American and the Soviet Union, spanning a time period from shortly after WWII to 1990. In the crosshairs of this conflict was Cuba, the island country that engaged in a revolution in 1959 led by Fidel Castro. Shortly following this revolution, American spies found out that the Soviets were building nuclear missile bases on the island. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a month-long standoff between the Americans and Soviet troops which quickly turned into an international crisis. The action of deploying American missiles in Italy and Turkey was then matched by the Soviet deployment in Cuba.

In July 1962, an agreement between the Soviet Secretary Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro led to the construction of missile launch facilities on the island. President Kennedy was able to maneuver around a declaration of war through tense negotiations with the Soviets, leading to a series of agreements between the two countries that reduced tensions until the eventual re-expansion of nuclear arsenals. Because of the vast geopolitical impact, this event had on the future of American military systems and global relations, we will analyze the economic effects that the American sanctions had on the Cuban economy.

Before Fidel Castro became the leader of Cuba, its economy was largely under the control of American corporations controlling industries such as natural resources, utilities, railroads, mining, sugar, and farming. The United States enforced its trade embargo against Cuba in 1960, which prevented American businesses from conducting trade with Cuban interests. According to a UN agency, this embargo that ensued during the missile crisis and the Cold War cost Cuba nearly $130 billion over 6 decades.

Source: "Trading with the Enemy: Opening the Door to U.S. Investment in Cuba," Fandl

Modest diplomatic actions occurred during the 70s and 80s that ultimately worsened Cuba's societal outlook. Although President Carter allowed for limited diplomatic exchange with Castro in 1978, that action did not override the American declaration that Cuba was a terrorist sponsor in 1982. This action was intended to justify the heavy economic sanctions that were already in place at this time.

The point of the Cuban embargo was to effectively harm the Cuban economy, which clearly was successful in that regard. However, this had a negative impact on the Cuban people and the nation's overall infrastructure. As a result, Cuba relied more on the USSR in order to uphold the country's healthcare system, as the Soviets helped with medical supplies and technology. Further, the Cuban Missile Crisis exemplified this reliance of Cuba on the Soviet Union for prosperity. Once the USSR dissolved, Cuba felt a decrease in 80% of its imports and exports, and its GDP dropped by 34% throughout the 1990s. Shortly following the collapse of the USSR, President Bush signed the Cuban Democracy Act, which increased American sanctions on Cuba.

If the Cuban embargo was lifted during the Cold War, the Cuban economy clearly would have had greater prosperity during this time. However, the fundamental philosophy behind the Cuban government represented an oppressive regime that opposed the virtues of freedom and liberty that the United States upheld vigorously.

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