15 Things You Didn’t Know About Cuba’s Relationship With The World
In mid December, the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic ties formally cut in 1960. While Americans and Cubans are scrambling to understand just what that means for day-to-day life, here are 15 things you didn’t know about Cuba’s relationship with the world.
Sources: BostonGlobe.com, TheGuardian.com, JSOnline.com, NYTimes.com, Eur-Lex.Europa.eu, RT.com, Business.FinancialPost.com, WashingtonPost.com
The U.S.-Cuba embargo existed more than 50 years
The U.S. has imposed a commercial, economic, and financial embargo against Cuba since October 1960, two years after the America-friendly Batista regime was deposed in the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro came to power. Castro promptly seized all American property and industry in Cuba. Subsequent U.S. presidents continued to keep relations severed with the island nation due to Castro’s refusal to move towards democracy and continuing human rights violations.
Obama and Raúl Castro agreed to restore full diplomatic relations
On Dec. 17, 2014, presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro appeared in public simultaneously in their respective countries to announce the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. This includes opening an American embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years, and the exchange of three Cuban spies being held in the U.S. for a Cuban arrested while working for American intelligence, as well as the humanitarian release of an American government contractor being held in Cuban prison.
The announcement ened 18 months of secret negotiations
The U.S. and Cuba have been in secret talks for a year-and-a-half to negotiate the terms of restored diplomacy. American aides Benjamin J. Rhodes and Ricardo Zúñiga and their Cuban counterparts conducted talks in nine meetings beginning in June 2013, mostly held in Canada. Pope Francis was involved in the process, encouraging both parties to come to the table, and the pope even hosted a meeting of both sides at the Vatican in October 2014 to help negotiate the terms of prisoner exchange. Obama and Castro have yet to meet in person; the final agreement was reached by telephone, which constitutes the first substantive direct contact between American and Cuban leaders since the embargo was put in place.
The embargo remains in place unless Congress acts to lift it
While Obama has the authority to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, the executive branch cannot lift the trade embargo. That power rests within the legislative branch. Congress would have to vote to lift the embargo entirely. While there is some support from both parties, though mostly Democrats, some politicians have been sharply critical of Obama’s decision. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Cuban-American himself, said the move would “invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.”
Venezuela and Bolivia remain Cuba’s biggest trading partners
Following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cuba became relatively isolated and went through severe economic hardship. Since then, it has entered into bilateral cooperation with several South American countries, most notably Venezuela and Bolivia, and developed a growing relationship with China and Russia.
Cubans were formerly granted special immigration privileges in the U.S.
Cubans able to make it to the U.S. were allowed to stay as part of a 1966 act known informally as the “wet foot, dry foot policy. It allowed them to apply for permanent residency after a year. There was a high success rate. Here’s how it worked: Cubans who made it to dry land on U.S. shores could stay, but those who were apprehended at sea were sent back to Cuba or to a third country if they proved they faced prosecution or danger at home. Cubans have also been granted five-year, multiple-entry visas, making it easy to travel back and forth between the two countries.
Deportation questions regarding criminals
Some of the tens of thousands of Cubans living in the U.S. were deported years ago for committing crimes. Cuba refused to accept them and they were allowed to stay in the U.S. It has not yet been announced how the U.S. will deal with deporting Cuban criminals, including those who have already finished their sentences as well as those still in detention.
President Raúl Castro relaxed Cuba’s immigration laws in 2012
Cuban President Raúl Castro changed Cuba’s immigration laws in 2012, making it easier for citizens to leave the country without applying for special permits. Even after leaving, Cubans can still keep the majority of their Cuban social benefits.
It’s still illegal for most Americans to travel to Cuba
Despite the normalization of diplomatic ties with Cuba, the 50-year-plus trade embargo remains in place, making it illegal for Americans to travel to or spend money in Cuba. There are 12 categories of people who are allowed to visit, including family members, those traveling on academic, government, humanitarian, educational, or religious business, and journalists.
The U.S. eased export restrictions on travel to Cuba
Those who are able to travel to Cuba can bring up to $400 USD in goods out of the country. Only $100 of the allowance can be liquor or tobacco products, but this is still a major change from the previous zero-tolerance policy.
Israel refuses to support the U.S. decision to restore ties with Cuba
Despite the Obama administration’s request to Israel to issue a public declaration supporting the decision, Israel has refused to do so. This may be due in part to Israel being kept in the dark during negotiations. Many have theorized that the decision also stems from Israel’s reluctance to alienate key Republican allies critical of Obama’s move. Since the embargo was imposed in 1960, Israel has been one of the few countries in the U.N. Assembly to consistently vote with the U.S. against legislation geared towards ending the embargo.
Cuba may face oil shortages as Venezuela scalse back subsidized oil deliveries
Venezuela, Cuba’s long-standing main benefactor, is facing its own crisis as the global price of oil drops. Economic pressures may force Venezuela to cut back on the subsidized oil it delivers to Cuba. Cuba could in turn face potential blackouts and severe deprivation such as followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Foreign investment in Cuba has decreased in recent years despite Castro’s incentives
In 2013, President Raúl Castro attempted to attract foreign investment by promising investors greater control over wage setting and a quick turnaround – within 60 days – for proposals. However, the continuing tight bureaucracy in Cuba has kept wary foreign investors at bay, and more investors have left the country in the past few years than have arrived.
Many international investors still see Cuba as lacking capacity to support big business
In addition to Castro’s tight control over Cuba’s business sector, investors point to the lack of training in business concepts, as well as the lack of proper incentives, needed to establish big business in Cuba. Economist Andrew Zimbalist, while discussing the need for incentives and work culture, said Cubans “live in a society that provides basic needs and little else. It’s not possible to get ahead by working harder so it’s not easy to motivate people.”
Some believe Cuba is poised to become an international football powerhouse
As Cuba gradually opens its borders, it brings more than just economic opportunity. Some believe that the increasing popularity of football, or soccer, will continue to grow, eventually replacing baseball as the country’s national sport. Youth soccer has become more formalized, the World Cup and European league matches are broadcast year round, and more people can be seen playing on the streets. As Jeré Longman, a writer for the New York Times, said, “Baseball is the sport of Cuba’s revolution, but soccer is the sport of the arriving world.”
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